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Waukesha to seek DNR approval for Lake Michigan water

By Sean Ryan

Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, explains the plan to tap Lake Michigan water to the city’s Common Council on Thursday night. (Photo by Sean Ryan)

Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, explains the plan to tap Lake Michigan water to the city’s Common Council on Thursday night. (Photo by Sean Ryan)

The Waukesha Common Council on Thursday decided to request state approval to tap Lake Michigan.

The decision came after questions over whether the city should spend more time gathering details about the proposal and whether applying for approval would limit the city’s options in the future.

“To not move this application forward would be a disservice to our citizens at this time,” said Alderman Rick Tortomasi. “It is not a commitment.”

Thursday’s vote means the city will ask the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to approve the plan to build a pipeline to Lake Michigan. The proposal emerged as the cheapest and preferred option among the four alternatives the Waukesha Water Utility studied in detail.

It would cost an estimated $164 million to build a pipeline, pump stations and other infrastructure to buy Lake Michigan water and pump it to Waukesha. The project cost includes building a pipeline to return treated water from the city’s wastewater plant to Underwood Creek.

During a public hearing before the vote, five people asked the council to approve the water plan, and two asked to delay a decision.

Charlene Lemoine, a board member of the Waukesha Environmental Action League, said it would be a mistake to approve the application without performing more studies.

If the state approves the proposal, the city must also gain approval from the Council of Great Lakes Governors, which is comprised of the governors of the states that border the Great Lakes.

Lemoine said the council is likely to reject the plan until more alternatives are studied and more details are added.

“There is no reason to rush this decision,” Lemoine said, “and many reasons to wait.”

Clare O’Sheel, speaking on behalf of the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce, urged the council to approve the plan, saying it will not prevent the city from exploring other options in the future.

“We believe extensive scientific study has demonstrated Lake Michigan is the best sustainable source,” O’Sheel said.

The utility’s wells are contaminated with radium, and on days of heavy water demand, the utility distributes water that exceeds U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits.

The Waukesha utility is under a court order to meet a June 30, 2018, deadline to adhere to the federal radium standards.

Duchniak said that sending the DNR an application this month would help the city hit its deadline to supply radium-free water, but it will not prevent the city from modifying its plan or exploring other options in the future.

Although the deadline is more than eight years away, the city does not have much time to act, said Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility. If the city applies for Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approval this month, the best-case scenario would have the city begin engineering work next year and construction in 2013. Without any delays, the project would be complete in 2016.

That gives the city an 18-month buffer, Duchniak said, and the city will need that time if lawsuits are filed, he said, or if there are delays with the project.

“Every week and every month is critical at this point in terms of coming into compliance,” Duchniak said.

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