Waukesha-Milwaukee water deal is a win-win


Two years ago in this space, I wrote that the City of Waukesha’s request to use Lake Michigan as its source of water should be approved. I was also critical of Milwaukee’s objections and said Milwaukee had missed out on an opportunity to gain the entire city of Waukesha as a water customer.

Instead, Waukesha planned to get its Lake Michigan water from Oak Creek.

A major concern of Milwaukee officials was that Waukesha’s water request included not just that city’s existing population, but also anticipated future growth areas. Milwaukee officials said Waukesha should only get water to serve its existing service area.

When Waukesha’s Lake Michigan water request was approved in 2016 by the governors of the Great Lakes states, it was limited to the city’s existing service area.

I wrote here that the approval of Waukesha’s Lake Michigan water request would be good for the entire region. But again, I criticized Milwaukee officials for missing an opportunity to provide the water to Waukesha.

Then I got a call from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. He said the approval by the Great Lakes governors limiting Waukesha’s use of Lake Michigan water to its existing service area removed Milwaukee’s biggest complaint. Therefore, Milwaukee was still interested in providing water to Waukesha, and could do so at a much lower price than the Oak Creek deal, he said. Barrett also said he wanted to do a deal with Waukesha so the water rates paid by its residents could be used to replace lead water pipes in Milwaukee.

I was skeptical. I figured Milwaukee had missed its chance.

But an agreement for Waukesha to negotiate exclusively with Oak Creek for water expired this year and Milwaukee submitted a competing proposal.

Recently, Waukesha officials announced their decision: Waukesha will get its water from Milwaukee, not Oak Creek.

Although a blow to Oak Creek, this is a big win for both Milwaukee and Waukesha.

Getting water from Milwaukee instead of Waukesha will save millions of dollars. Waukesha will save $40 million in construction costs by cutting 10 miles off the length of the supply pipeline and will save millions more by securing lower water rates from Milwaukee.

Waukesha residents will pay about $200 less per year and some of the city’s top industrial water users will save $55,000 per year by getting water from Milwaukee.

The deal will bring in $3.2 million to $4.5 million in revenue to the City of Milwaukee per year. Barrett plans to use that revenue to replace lead water lateral pipes in Milwaukee.

Bigger picture: it’s great to see Milwaukee and one of its suburban communities working together in a mutually beneficial deal.

“It is my hope that our partnership will lead to additional opportunities for us and others to work together for the common good,” said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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