Waukesha’s water debate is skewed

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:43 pm

    Farmers, government officials and activists are working together in Madison to plot a healthier future for the area’s lakes. That’s great news, because Madison’s lakes add great value to the city and region, and have been abused for years, decades.

    There is not the same level of cooperation in the Milwaukee area about the long-term health of the lakes and water resources here, and policy-makers should wince at the truth of the matter spoken in a Capitol Times story by this one Wisconsin official: "It’s all a matter of will," said Kurt Welke, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries manager for Dane County. "We have the brains and the political traction in Dane County that they don’t have in a lot of other places."

    Examples from the news around here:

    • Communities in the region are draining each other’s water.
    • Developers have been allowed to build right on top of open space through which rain and snow naturally replenished underground water reserves.
    • And the City of Waukesha tried twice in 2006 confidentially to get permission to remove up to 24 million gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan without returning a drop through treatment. Once that plan got outed, then ignored by Doyle, Waukesha shifted its water-diversion thinking with another environmentally-dubious twist: flushing treated water towards Lake Michigan through a tributary, like the Root River, or Underwood Creek, or the Menomonee River.

    Can those rivers and streams safely absorb additional millions of gallons of less-than-pure water, especially during a rainstorm, without causing flooding or damaging the banks?

    But again, the issue is being defined by "how-do-we-get-our-hands-on-more-water," not "what-is-the-right-thing-to-do?"

    The DNR is working with Waukesha on some answers. If past practice tells us much, the public will be the last to know.

    In Dane County, policy-making seems to be driven by consensus respect for the water, and proposals are talked about in the open.

    In our region, policy-making is driven by behind-the-scenes maneuvering and money – big fees to consultants, knee-jerk approvals for annexations of farmland for development, billions ticketed for road expansion into rural areas.

    While Dane County had tolerated sprawl, allowed manure to run into the lakes and dumped weed-killers into them, too, at least now it seems as if there is movement forward to correct past mistakes.

    In southeastern Wisconsin, the mistake-makers are still calling the shots.

     

    James Rowen is a writer, a former reporter and a former mayoral staffer in both Madison and Milwaukee. He is the author of The Political Environment blog.
     

     

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