Waukesha’s water request coming into focus

New draft findings expected ahead of May 10 meeting

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:20 pm

The city of Waukesha’s request for Lake Michigan water may have been scaled back, but the application continues to move forward with the possibility of clearing its first major hurdle next week.

The proposed area to potentially be served by the city of Waukesha under its Great Lakes diversion request. Source: WaukeshaDiversion.org
The proposed area to potentially be served by the city of Waukesha under its Great Lakes diversion request. Source: WaukeshaDiversion.org

Representatives from eight states and two Canadian provinces spent five hours Monday working through the details of a draft declaration of findings regarding the request during a conference call and webinar.

The 2008 Great Lakes Compact prohibits diversions of water from the lakes, but makes exceptions for communities in counties straddling the border of the Great Lakes basin. Waukesha fits that exception and is under a court order to find a new source of water because of radium contamination in its supply.

After years of preparation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources forwarded the application to the Great Lakes regional body at the end of last year. The body will be making a recommendation to the Compact Council, which is made up of just the eight states surrounding the Great Lakes. All eight must sign off on the diversion for Waukesha to get water.

The city initially requested to withdraw up to 10.1 million gallons per day to meet projected demands for a service area that would have included the city of Waukesha and portions of the towns of Waukesha, Genesee, and Delafield and the city of Pewuakee.

The regional body scaled back that request at a meeting in April, eliminating Genesee and Delafield and much of the Town of Waukesha. The total diversion amount was also decreased to 8.2 million gallons per day.

Monday’s meeting focused on several remaining areas of concern for various states and provinces. The total volume was increased to 8.4 million gallons per day to account for errors in calculation. The final number is subject to change depending on which areas are finally included.

The areas subject to debate include town of Waukesha islands within the city borders, border islands on the city’s eastern edge, a portion of the city of Pewaukee subject to a 1997 agreement and town areas with water mains adjacent or transecting them.

Combined, these areas account for about 5 percent of the reduced demand the city is now seeking.

Opinions among the states and provinces differed on which of the areas should be included. There was general consensus that town islands should be included, but that’s where the agreement ended.

In particular, representatives from New York declined to sign on to including all the areas, asking for more time to review the reasoning with attorneys.

The Pewaukee areas are included because the agreement predates the signing of the compact, which representatives from Michigan said made it acceptable to include them. The water main adjacent areas were included because Waukesha is the logical place for them to turn to if they need water. Michigan representatives indicated they had some concerns about their inclusion. New York’s representatives also questioned if the areas would be considered to have legally asked for water.

While some states supported the water main adjacent areas being included, others balked at the idea. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources water use section chief Eric Ebersberger said those areas generally had an understanding that they could hook up to the city’s water in the future, but no actual agreements were in place.

The debate at times was as much about what process was followed as it was the merits of whether a particular area needed water. The Waukesha application is the first of its kind and is being watched for its potential to set precedent, a fact the various representatives seemed keenly aware of.

A clean draft of the Regional Body’s declaration of findings is expected to be completed by Wednesday. The states and provinces will then review it ahead of a meeting on May 10 in Chicago.

At that meeting, the members of the Regional Body are expected to indicate which portions of the findings they agree with or provide alternative findings where they disagree.

The recommendations are then forwarded to the Compact Council for a tentative vote on June 13.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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