Drama in Waukesha's Water World
As Milwaukee Riverkeeper reported earlier in the month, at Mayor Barrett's request, the Milwaukee Common Council approved a resolution stating it would only negotiate to sell water to Waukesha's current service area and not its neighboring municipalities. Waukesha is applying for a diversion of Lake Michigan water under the Great Lakes Compact and is currently seeking to obtain water from the City of Milwaukee, Racine, or Oak Creek.
The Water Division Administrator at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) stated in a letter to Waukesha's Water Utility this week that state law prohibits the WDNR from using municipal boundaries to limit a community's water service area. This means Waukesha's future water service area must be in step with an earlier state-approved future sewer service area that encompasses portions of neighboring municipalities, such as Pewaukee, Genesee and Delafield. In other words, if a city is to provide sewer service to an adjoining community, it also has to provide water.
The Solution (or lack there of)
Thus, negotiations for Lake Michigan water between Milwaukee and Waukesha are currently at a standstill with no clear compromise in sight. Milwaukee Mayor Barrett has submitted a letter to WDNR Secretary, Cathy Stepp, asking for the Department's official position on whether a supplier of lake water to Waukesha must allow the water to be distributed to a future service area extending miles beyond current city limits.
We will keep you updated on this issue as details arise. But for now, read much more about it in a comprehensive Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article below and check out the letters from Mayor Barrett below.
[excerpted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
by Don Behm
Milwaukee's insistence that any sale of Lake Michigan water to the City of Waukesha prohibit distribution beyond Waukesha's current service area appears to be a deal breaker. In a letter to Waukesha, Department of Natural Resources Water Division Administrator Kenneth Johnson says state law prohibits the department from using municipal boundaries to limit a community's water service area.
Johnson tells Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak in the letter that the city's future water service area must align with an earlier state-approved future sewer service area that encompasses portions of neighboring municipalities.
Johnson sent his letter to Duchniak this week as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Willie Hines sent a letter of their own to Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp, asking for her opinion on the same issue.
The dispute between Milwaukee and Waukesha over distribution of Lake Michigan water has derailed talks between the two cities for a possible water deal.
They are at an impasse, with both sides unwilling to budge and not talking, even though Waukesha has been negotiating a water purchase deal with Oak Creek and Racine for nearly a year.
In a letter to Stepp, Barrett and Hines ask for the department's official position on whether a supplier of lake water to Waukesha must allow the water to be distributed to a future service area extending miles beyond current city limits.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission designated a larger future service area for Waukesha reaching into portions of four neighboring municipalities: the City of Pewaukee and towns of Waukesha, Genesee and Delafield.
Waukesha has said state law obligates it to distribute water to the commission's designated future service area, and that is the area included in the city's Great Lakes water diversion application.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Barrett, Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak says Milwaukee has disqualified itself from being considered a possible supplier by its insistence that lake water could not be distributed beyond Waukesha's current service area.
At Barrett's request, the Milwaukee Common Council on July 6 approved a resolution authorizing talks with Waukesha for distribution of lake water only to that city's current service area.
"There is no value in engaging in any discussions or negotiations considering the limitations created by Milwaukee's action," Duchniak says in his letter.
"Unless the Common Council authorizes discussions that actually comply with state water supply plan laws, there is nothing for us to negotiate."
Of equal significance to Waukesha, DNR Water Use Section Chief Eric Ebersberger has said in an interview and in informal conversations with Milwaukee representatives that the department will not accept a water deal that does not distribute water to the entire future service area.
Ebersberger's comments conflict with Milwaukee's interpretation of state law and a 2008 Great Lakes protection compact, according to Barrett.
For that reason, Milwaukee officials want Stepp to clarify the department's position and put it in writing. A resolution is needed before Waukesha can select a supplier from among the three lakeshore communities, Barrett and Hines say in the letter to Stepp.
Now Johnson has added his opinion in support of Ebersberger.
Extending sewer but not water service beyond the city's boundary would violate one Great Lakes protection compact requirement, according to Johnson. Well water from a new sewered area would be flushed and treated at Waukesha's sewage plant and returned to the lake. That would conflict with the compact's goal of minimizing water from outside the Great Lakes drainage basin being pumped into one of the lakes.
Though the compact generally prohibits diversions of water out of the Great Lakes drainage basin, it does provide an exception to a community outside the basin if it is within a county straddling the sub-continental divide. When the eight Great Lakes states approved the compact, officials were aware that Waukesha was waiting to ask for such an exception.
A diversion exception could be permitted only if the community was without adequate supplies of potable water, Barrett says in the letter to Stepp.
Milwaukee officials recognize that Waukesha faces a challenge in providing a potable supply for its residents because it depends on deep wells drawing radium-contaminated water from sandstone, according to Barrett.
But Waukesha's diversion application does not describe current water supply problems in portions of four municipalities included in a future service area, the letter to Stepp says.
"We are not aware that those municipalities have provided evidence that they lack an adequate potable water supply," the letter says.
In an interview, Barrett said the DNR must confirm which state law requires water distribution to the entire future service area and whether the outlying communities must pass the same potable water supply test as Waukesha under terms of the compact.
Duchniak said Thursday that it was unfortunate Milwaukee did not ask for the clarification before the Common Council's July 6 vote.
"The DNR is the enforcement agency for Wisconsin's water supply plan, and we are confident they will provide a thorough explanation to Milwaukee," he said.
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