Environmental groups are suspicious of the development projections Waukesha is using to justify its request for Lake Michigan water.
“We are concerned about the land use and population estimates,” said Laurie Longtine, co-chairwoman of the Wisconsin Environmental Action League’s water team. “There’s some very suspect numbers and formulas in figuring that out.
“It really assumes a lot. I mean, look at what’s happening to the housing market.”
Waukesha, in its plan to tap Lake Michigan as a water source, estimated the water would serve an area that, if fully developed, would have a population of 97,400, an increase of 21,900 people from the total in the 2000 U.S. Census.
“I would say the majority of it is in the residential area,” said Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility. “There is some commercial and industrial growth, but most of the commercial and industrial growth would be more redevelopment or infill development.”
A coalition of Wisconsin environmental organizations is closely reviewing Waukesha’s plan to buy Lake Michigan water because the deal could set a precedent for use of Great Lakes water, said Jodi Habush Sinykin, counsel to Midwest Environmental Advocates.
Waukesha is outside of the Great Lakes Basin, which means the city needs water-use approval from the Great Lakes Council of Governors, with representatives from all of the states that border the Great Lakes.
According to Wisconsin law and the council of governors, Great Lakes water can be used in communities such as Waukesha if there is no other alternative.
Habush Sinykin said she wants more evidence justifying why Waukesha should use Lake Michigan water to support growth when deep and shallow wells could be used to satisfy current needs.
“For no reasonable water supply alternative, they’re looking for more water and for an expanded service area and growth,” Habush Sinykin said, “and it’s going to make things difficult for them.”
Duchniak said state law and the Great Lakes Council of Governors’ compact require communities factor growth into their applications. Waukesha’s plan estimates an average demand of 10.9 million gallons per day, compared with the current average demand of 7 million gallons per day.
“We want to make sure that we accommodate development,” he said, “because you only want to go to the Great Lakes governors once.”
Waukesha’s proposal would direct water to a 39.1-square-mile area, the majority of which is developed. City planners came up with the projected population of 97,400 by considering land uses proposed in the area’s long-range plan and predicting the land would be completely built out according to the plan, Duchniak said.
Habush Sinykin said the use of water for growth raises the stakes for how the state and council of governors treats this application. The real question, she said, is about using Great Lakes water for development more than to sustain an existing population.
“I would think that if that were something to be pursued, growth outside of the basin, impacts would have to be evaluated very closely,” Habush Sinykin said.