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Waukesha runs out of cheap water options (VIDEO)

By Sean Ryan

As Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, explained the $164 million plan to build a pipeline to Lake Michigan, members of city government asked if he had any cheaper alternatives.

After studying 14 alternatives for more than seven years and narrowing the ideas down to the three-best options, the Lake Michigan option emerged as the cheapest, said Daniel Warren, president of the water utility commission.

“Big dollars, there’s no question about it,” Warren told the Waukesha Common Council on Thursday night. “There is no inexpensive solution to the issue. That’s what these numbers are showing us, and we have to come to grips with that reality.”

Members of the Common Council asked about various alternatives to tapping Lake Michigan that ranged from doing nothing to building twice as much so the city can use new wells and receive lake water. Many of the council members searched for options to get water without having to buy it from the city of Milwaukee.

“We should not be buying water from any community on the Great Lakes that will have political demands,” said Alderman Emanuele Vitale, “or conditions to the sale of water.”

One of the reasons the city needs a new water source is because the supply does not meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for radium content. Alderman Paul Furrer said that, instead of searching for a new source, the city should pressure the EPA to change its standards.

“There’s many people that talk to me in the street and the barber shop or whatever,” he said, “and they say we don’t have a water problem. What we have is a political problem.”

The city already tried that route in the 1990s, said city Attorney Curt Meitz, when it sued the EPA over its radium standards and lost. The agency is not going to change its rules, he said.

“I really don’t think (the EPA will change its rules),” he said. “That’s highly unlikely, and if they would, it would be a very long process.”

Duchnaik said the city also needs a new supply because its goal is to meet the city’s water needs for the next 50 to 100 years, which will max out at an estimated 18.5 million gallons per day. The underground wells are not a reliable source for the future and, the more they are drawn down, the more contaminated water from the wells will become, he said.

Vitale suggested using treatment systems to clean the radium or other contaminants out of city well water instead of building a pipe toward Milwaukee.

“These treatments may not cost as much as the cost of the Great Lakes,” he said. “Could it be less money?”

Duchniak said it would not be cheaper. Duchniak said it is one of the 14 options that was studied and rejected. After studying the three-best options— Lake Michigan and deep and shallow wells—water utility officials decided to pursue lake water. The city could buy water from Milwaukee, Racine or Oak Creek, but is currently basing its costs off the price of buying from Milwaukee.

The project includes building a pipe to connect to Milwaukee’s system near 60th Street and Howard Avenue. The city needs Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approval to build a pipeline to Lake Michigan.

City leaders on Thursday got their first look at the draft application to the state. The city will hold public meetings in February and March to collect feedback on the application before submitting it to the DNR, which will not happen before mid-March.

“Bottom line is we’re looking at dollars to solve the problem in the magnitude of $160, $170, $180 million,” Warren said. “This will be, by far, the largest capital project in the city of Waukesha’s history.”

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