How and when annex 2001 eventually allows water to be diverted out of the Great
Lakes basin will be heavily influenced by an unelected Wisconsin planning agency
that is hardly a household name across the region.
That agency is SEWRPC —
the seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission — pronounced
"sewerpac," an unfortunately confusing acronym, because SEWRPC is neither
a political action committee nor waste treatment body.
SEWRPC’s offices are
tucked away in an industrial park in Waukesha County, a fast-growing region west
of Milwaukee County that is partially in and partially out of the Great Lakes
That means that Waukesha County is a "straddling county"
under the annex’s basin-boundary-bending definition, so its largest municipality,
the city of Waukesha, is eligible to apply for a diversion under terms of the
SEWRPC is governed by a 21-member board, with three commissioners
appointed from each of the seven counties, regardless of population.
for clean Lake Michigan water, Waukesha County pressed SEWRPC to launch in 2005
a 30-month regional water-supply study; many observers see the study’s recommendations
likely to bless out-of-basin diversions as appropriate and desirable as more Waukesha
farmland is converted to housing and commercial development.
early indicator: SEWRPC hired the Waukesha consulting and engineering firm of
Ruekert/Mielke to handle much of the study’s structure and research.
same firm and its key personnel advising on the SEWRPC study also prepared the
controversial Lake Michigan-diversion application for the city of New Berlin,
another water-hungry Waukesha County community.
That application, prepared
quietly, and then forwarded to the Great Lakes states for review by the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources, was blocked – – for now – – by Michigan Gov.
Jennifer Granholm in June.
SEWRPC has paved the way for much of the region’s
sprawl, literally: The agency recently recommended $6.5 billion in state spending
on freeway modernization and expansion, including adding new lanes across Waukesha
County – – the very area where overdevelopment has contributed to the county’s
Though it says it will examine conservation and other alternatives,
SEWRPC will probably endorse out-of-basin diversions as a key element for regional
And that could open the floodgates across the Great Lakes
basin far beyond the borders of one Wisconsin seven-county region, and a single
Jim Rowan lives in Milwaukee where he writes freelance
for several Wisconsin publications and Web sites, and advises Wisconsin environmental
groups on media strategies for land-use, transportation and water issues.