Skeptics worried about Waukesha’s proposal to put water into flood-prone Underwood Creek say the city should instead build a pipe to Lake Michigan.
The Waukesha Water Utility plan to buy Lake Michigan water includes returning it to the lake through a pipe emptying into Wauwatosa’s Underwood Creek, which flows to the lake.
But Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan said he does not trust the plan and supports a resolution opposing the utility sending water into rivers and creeks.
“I think what everyone seems to be looking at right now is some low-cost alternative, regardless of the property owners along these waterways, regardless of environmental impact,” he said.
But others stand by Waukesha Water Utility studies indicating adding water to the creek will improve the waterway’s habitat and not cause flooding.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to having it go in that direction,” said James Krol, president of the Wauwatosa Common Council. “Having to build a pipe all of the way through, if it would work, that would be fine. But, economically, it may make it more difficult to achieve, so I want to be fair and objective.”
The water utility studied building a water-return pipeline to Lake Michigan, and the project would cost an estimated $117.5 million. It would cost $57 million to build a pipeline to deposit water in Underwood Creek.
Dan Duchniak, Waukesha Water Utility general manager, said the utility rejected the lake pipeline for environmental reasons.
“It was screened out because there is no benefit to taking the water back,” he said, “when, in fact, you can provide a positive benefit to Underwood Creek.”
The increased water flow through Underwood would improve the creek habitat during summer when the creek flow slows to a trickle, Duchniak said. The Waukesha water would not cause floods because when Underwood’s water levels rise, the utility, as it does now, would redirect water to the Fox River.
Flooding around Underwood Creek is a sore subject in Wauwatosa, said Richard Bachman, who was a Wauwatosa alderman from 1968 to 1984 and from 1990 to 1998.
He said he shares Weishan’s view that communities should push Waukesha to build the lake pipeline.
Wauwatosa, over the years, has installed sump pumps to deal with flooding and has spent $6 million improving nearby Hart Park, Bachman said. He said he does not want a change in the creek’s water levels to upset the balance.
“If they want the water, they’ve got to pipe it to Michigan,” Bachman said, “because we can’t take the chance for more damage to Hart Park.”
The utility plan for Underwood Creek will require approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which considers requests for utilities to send water into waterways, Duchniak said. The city of Wauwatosa has hired an outside attorney to be its representative during the DNR’s review of Waukesha’s water application. The Waukesha Common Council on Thursday night was to consider the plan to tap Lake Michigan and return the water through Underwood Creek.
Weishan’s County Board resolution, which will have a hearing Tuesday, would not be binding and would be added as comments to the DNR as it reviews the utility plan.
Weishan said he wants a plan that will remove any question of something going wrong in the future if Waukesha taps Lake Michigan.
“They get paid to say positive things,” he said of Waukesha’s planners. “It would be a great surprise to me if they came forward and said, ‘Yeah, this is going to be an environmental disaster.’”
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