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Pipeline proposal faces Wauwatosa skeptics

By Sean Ryan

Wauwatosa residents want a guarantee from Waukesha planners that a water pipeline emptying into Underwood Creek will not lead to flooding and pollution.

“I’m taking an ‘I’m from Missouri’ stance on this one,” said Bill Kappel, Wauwatosa director of public works. “You have to show me it’s OK before I buy into it.”

The Waukesha Water Utility, as part of its plan to buy Lake Michigan water, proposes returning water to the lake through Underwood Creek, which runs through Wauwatosa. Waukesha plans to spend $56 million designing and building an 11.4-mile pipeline to move treated water from a Waukesha sewage treatment plant to the creek.

Dan Duchniak, Waukesha water utility general manager, said the goal is to design a project that will make Underwood Creek cleaner without contributing to flooding during heavy storms. The project will not reach detailed design until the utility receives approval for its plan to buy Lake Michigan water, he said.

“There will be enough going into the planning and the design,” he said, “that we would eliminate all of those concerns.”

But, considering the area around Underwood Creek flooded in 2008 and 2009, Wauwatosa officials want assurances, Kappel said. City officials want details such as where the pipe would discharge water into the creek and when Waukesha would close the pipe during heavy rainfall, he said.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is on the verge of completing a flood-prevention project in Wauwatosa, he said, so the city does not want Waukesha’s pipeline to generate new problems.

“Obviously, we want to make sure that there is a safety valve for the future of Wauwatosa,” Kappel said, “after all of the millions that have been spent on flood control.”

Duchniak said the utility’s solution is simple: It will not send water into Underwood Creek during heavy rains. Water would instead be channeled into the Fox River, where the Waukesha treatment plant currently sends its treated water, he said.

“We want to minimize and eliminate the impact during those flooding events,” Duchniak said.

The pipeline proposal also has raised questions about the quality of water Waukesha will send into the creek. Wauwatosa resident Robert Coakley, who lives within a block of Underwood Creek, said the creek already smells during hot summer days.

When considering a complicated project such as Waukesha is proposing, he said, he is skeptical about what effect it will have.

“I’m really concerned about the smell and the quality of the water that goes in there,” he said. “They can tell you everything you want to hear, and all of the sudden you have a problem and they say, ‘Oh, that will never happen again.’”

Cheryl Nenn, of the environmental group Milwaukee Riverkeeper, said the levels of salt and phosphorous in the water coming out of Waukesha’s treatment plant are higher than the levels in the creek water.

She said her concern, in terms of quality and quantity, is the Waukesha project could hamper future efforts to improve the creek by, for example, removing the concrete walls that now line some parts of the creek.

Kappel said Wauwatosa will request the Waukesha utility guarantee all water sent into Underwood Creek will be at least as clean as the water MMSD discharges into Lake Michigan.

Duchniak said Waukesha will meet that standard. Kappel said Wauwatosa is writing a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which must approve Waukesha’s plan to use Lake Michigan water, to lay out Wauwatosa’s questions and concerns.

“We’re raising them as issues that need to be addressed as the permit process moves forward,” he said.

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