Waukesha moves forward with Lake Michigan quest

The Waukesha Common Council recently approved plans to seek Lake Michigan water to solve the city’s drinking water problems.

Waukesha is the first community outside of the Great Lakes basin to request access to Great Lakes water under the Great Lakes water compact approved in 2008.

Waukesha’s application for Lake Michigan water will be reviewed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Waukesha wants Lake Michigan water because of high levels of radium in the city’s water supply. Radium is known to cause cancer when consumed in high doses. Waukesha has been ordered by the state to solve its drinking water problems by 2018.
Waukesha officials say the cost of establishing infrastructure to tap Lake Michigan water would be $164 million.
Waukesha has considered four options for improving its water supply, including: use of deep and shallow aquifers; use of shallow aquifer and Fox River alluvium; use of Lake Michigan water; and the recently added fourth option of using Lake Michigan water and a shallow aquifer. That final option would be the most costly, at $238 million.
“(Even) if the Lake Michigan option was the most expensive, I would still stand here and recommend it as the best option,” said Dan Duchniak, general manager at the Waukesha Water Utility in his presentation. “The 150-year plus solution is the Great Lakes option. Our vision is to implement a sustainable water supply.”
The Lake Michigan option would allow Waukesha to obtain treated water from a Lake Michigan water utility and convey the water to Waukesha through a transmission pipeline and booster pump station to the Hillcrest reservoir in Waukesha. The city’s treated wastewater would then be returned to Lake Michigan using Underwood Creek.
The City of Milwaukee could be the water utility that provides the water to Waukesha. Some Milwaukee officials have objected to providing water to a suburban community.
Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. recently proposed a resolution that opposes Waukesha’s return flow, saying it would impact waterways that flow through county parks.
The options to solve Waukesha’s drinking water problems were a major issue during the recent mayoral election in Waukesha. Mayor Larry Nelson lost his job in that election to challenger Jeff Scrima, who opposed the Lake Michigan option while campaigning, but now says he will support the city’s application for Great Lakes water.
“I always said we should explore all options, and this (Lake Michigan) is simply one of the options,” Scrima said. “It doesn’t mean we will get Lake Michigan water. It doesn’t mean we are going to get Milwaukee water. At the end of the day, we are going to make sure that the citizens of Waukesha get the best possible deal and get the best possible price.”
Waukesha will begin negotiations with the city of Milwaukee, Racine or Oak Creek to provide water.
The pressure is on for Waukesha to find an alternative water source, as two bills addressing groundwater recently were introduced into the state Legislature that could impose additional regulation on the existing groundwater supply and could give the DNR expanded power to regulate high-capacity wells.
“It’s a historical moment for the city of Waukesha that they are at as it moves forward with the application and looking to resolve their water issues for the long-term,” Duchniak said. “It is a step forward, first step in the process of many ahead, and I’m looking forward to moving that process forward.”

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