The future of the City of Waukesha’s application to obtain water diverted from Lake Michigan may be grim after a letter sent from Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima on July 2 to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
According, to Waukesha Common Council president Paul Ybarra, Scrima’s letter “did not help the application. It severely hampered it.”
Scrima’s letter was sent in response to a letter by DNR secretary Matthew Frank on June 8 requesting for cost estimates and other information regarding the city’s water application, in addition to a request for affirmation that the Great Lakes water is the only sustainable option.
The letter from the DNR also halted the agency’s review of the city’s application.
“Due to the fact that it has been publically discussed that the city is examining alternatives to Great Lakes water and is actively considering other sources the department cannot move forward on reviewing the application and the city must confirm that Great Lakes water is in fact the only long term sustainable water option,” Frank wrote on June 8.
While Scrima’s letter addressed the DNR’s identified deficiencies in Waukesha’s application, it did not affirm that the Great Lakes water was the only sustainable option.
“While much has been made of my push to have our City consider all viable water supply options before settling on just one – a Lake Michigan diversion of water – the deficiencies outlined in your letter are significant and confirm that our City’s water utility needs to objectively and openly consider all reasonable options,” Scrima wrote.
Scrima declined to return several phone calls for comment about this story.
“I am surprised and disappointed that the mayor continues to talk about groundwater,” Ybarra said.
Since he was elected earlier this year, Scrima has said that Waukesha should explore alternatives to Lake Michigan as a source for the city’s drinking water. Most recently,
Scrima has suggested exploring the use of groundwater to solve Waukesha’s water problem. The groundwater option was explored in the city’s application and dismissed on grounds it did not provide a long-term sustainable supply, proving the Great Lakes to be the best viable option.
Because of high levels of radium in Waukesha’s well water, the DNR has ordered city officials to find a way to improve Waukesha’s drinking water by 2018.
According to Ybarra, the Great Lakes supply would address the issue of radium, in addition to providing a long-term sustainable solution for Waukesha residents.
“(Using groundwater) would suck the city’s groundwater dry … The concept of using groundwater is not a sustainable option,” Ybarra said.
When asked about the reaction of the common council to Scrima’s letter, Ybarra said, “It is hard to gauge where everyone is. Most have studied this application for several years.”
Representatives from Waukesha continue to meet with potential suppliers to obtain more detailed information to provide the DNR. Thus far, the city has met with officials from the cities of Milwaukee and Oak Creek and plan on meeting with Racine in late July.
According to Bruce Baker, administrator for the water division of the state DNR, his office has not responded to Scrima’s letter. Ybarra expects dialogue to continue between the DNR and the city in the upcoming weeks as the city determines how to move forward with the application and respond to the items requested.
The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and other local business groups have launched an online petition drive of their members to rally support of the Lake Michigan water diversion option.
Liz Ramus is reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.