Officials From Great Lakes States Question Waukesha Water Plan

Representative Visit Points Along Water Diversion Plan In Southeastern Wisconsin

Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Officials from Great Lakes states raised questions Wednesday about Waukesha’s plan to get drinking water from Lake Michigan after taking a four-hour bus tour to key sites.

Waukesha is currently seeking approval from other Midwest states to become the first community just outside the Great Lakes basin to divert lake water, under the terms of a 2008 multi-state compact that potentially allows water diversions to cities in counties that straddle the basin.

During their tour, the group of Great Lakes representatives made stops at sites like the city of Oak Creek, which has agreed to sell treated Lake Michigan water to Waukesha, about 20 miles inland. The tour group didn’t ask many questions there, but they did at a visit to Waukesha’s sewage treatment plant, where the city is spending $72 million on an upgrade.

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Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said after Waukesha pipes up to 10 million gallons a day of lake water from Oak Creek and uses it, his city would be able to properly treat the wastewater before piping it to the Root River which flows back to Lake Michigan.

“We just wanted to get you here to kind of give you a feel for the location, the investment we’re putting into the facility and our commitment to that return flow,” said Duchniak.

Julie Ekman, Minnesota’s representative on the review council, wanted to know if Waukesha could properly treat things like prescription drugs that pass through the body or are poured down the toilet. Duchniak said there aren’t yet regulations on those materials, but that when there are, Waukesha would join other wastewater plants and find a solution.

Later, at an afternoon information session for the review panel, the questions became more persistent. Grant Trigger of Michigan zeroed in on Waukesha’s request for lake water for portions of a few smaller neighboring communities, in what’s called the city’s extended service area. Trigger said approving Waukesha’s proposal might mean problems with the next diversion request.

“The next person comes in and says, ‘Wait a minute — I have a town of 5,000 and a service area that serves 120,000.’ That other 115,000 people don’t have to make a demonstrated need because that’s the way you handled Waukesha,” Trigger said.

Timothy Bruno of Pennsylvania said he worries about the extended service area and urban sprawl.

“In my experience, where you plan to extend water service and sewer service to dictate how you’re going to develop over the years,” said Bruno.

Eric Ebersberger of the Wisconsin DNR responded that Waukesha’s plan would not automatically lead to further service area expansion.

“In terms of expansion of the diversion area, in this situation, we’re saying that would require a new diversion approval,” Ebersberger said.

Meanwhile, a public hearing on the existing diversion request is set for Thursday afternoon at Carroll University.

Great Lakes governors may decide on the proposal by the end of May.