Waukesha mayor clashes with business group on water issue

    In a letter sent this week to City of Waukesha Common Council members, the Waukesha County Business Alliance reiterated its support of Lake Michigan as a source for the city’s drinking water.
    “We applaud your efforts to appoint a unified water negotiation team to represent the city’s interests with potential supplier communities,” the letter states. “We believe it is important for the negotiations to move forward in good faith as quickly as possible.”
    The letter also criticizes Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima, saying he is trying to “muddy the waters,” over the issue.
    “Collectively, our members employ several thousand people in the City of Waukesha, many of whom are residents,” the WCBA letter says. “Recent comments made by Mayor Scrima to the press suggest that the Business Alliance has a hidden agenda to get Waukesha off the aquifer so the rest of Waukesha County can grow at the expense of the city. There is no basis for this allegation. Just under 50 percent of our members are located in the City of Waukesha. To suggest that the Business Alliance would take a position that would be detrimental to almost half of its members makes no sense. The purpose of such an allegation must be to muddy the waters over the real issue: what is the most sustainable, cost-effective solution for the City of Waukesha to recevie radium-compliant water over the long term?"
    When contacted by BizTimes Milwaukee, Scrima stood by his previous comments about the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s positon on the water issue.
    "The business alliance is representing the good of Waukesha County and the good of the region," Scrima said. "They do not represent the exclusive best interest of the city of Waukesha."
    The city’s water has a high level of radium, which is a carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the city to get the radium level in its water compliant with federal regulations by 2018.
    Most city officials support plans to seek permission to receive water from Lake Michigan, which would be provided by Milwaukee, Oak Creek or Racine. Scrima said the likely supplier would be Milwaukee, because it would cost an additional $100 million to get water from Oak Creek and an additional $150 million to get water from Racine.
    “There’s no doubt that we could build a pipe to Lake Michigan and that is a solution,” Scrima said. “However, there are a number of strings attached if we get the water from Milwaukee.”
    In 2008, the Milwaukee Common Council passed a resolution establishing terms and conditions by which the city would provide water to neighboring communities. Those terms and conditions indicate that a community applying for water from the city of Milwaukee must provide its comprehensive plan, an affordable housing plan and public transportation plan to the city of Milwaukee. Communities applying for water must also agree to a non-compete clause with the city, with both sides promising not to try to lure businesses from the other, and the community must agree to an economic compensation provision for the city of Milwaukee. Those conditions are some of the things that Scrima is concerned about in seeking water from the city of Milwaukee.
    “If we go to Milwaukee our citizens have to be wide-eyed and clear-eyed and know exactly what they are getting into,” Scrima said. “I think our residents are just waking p to the fact that our connection point is Milwaukee and what Milwaukee wants in the deal. From day one for Milwaukee this has been about politics and money. I respect that their officials are doing what they believe is in the best interests of their citizens. I’m doing the same for the citizens that elected me.”
    Scrima said the city should consider all options for its water supply, including drilling additional wells, in case the city’s application for Lake Michigan water is rejected or it cannot reach an agreement with the city of Milwaukee. Waukesha needs to maintain local control, he said.
    "We still have a lot of work to do to make our case that we have exhausted all other alternatives," Scrima said.
    However, other city and business officials say Lake Michigan is the only source that will provide a long-term, sustainable solution to the city’s water supply problems.
    The city of Waukesha submitted an application to the state Department of Natural Resources for a Lake Michigan water diversion. Although Waukesha is located outside of the Great Lakes basin it can apply for Great Lakes water because Waukesha County straddles the subcontinental divide, which is the edge of the basin. Waukesha needs to obtain approval from all of the Great Lakes governors for the water diversion and must return its treated wastewater to Lake Michigan.
    The DNR sought additional information from the city for its Great Lakes water application. City officials recently submitted a response to that request and a response from the DNR is expected soon to determine if the city’s application is complete.
    Scrima said he thinks the city’s application is still incomplete and not ready for full review by the DNR and the Great Lakes governors.
    “Even with the new documentation we’ve submitted to the DNR, I still believe there is information that is lacking,” he said.
    Click here to read a recent BizTimes Milwaukee cover story about the Waukesha water issue.
    – BizTimes Milwaukee

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