State officials on Tuesday returned Waukesha’s application to buy Lake Michigan water, saying the city has not exhausted its studies of alternative water sources.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which will review the city’s application to buy Lake Michigan water, cannot consider Waukesha’s plan until the city abandons any consideration of other sources, said Bruce Baker, administrator of the DNR water division. The state requires that Great Lakes water can be tapped as a source only if no other alternatives are practical.
“It’s premature for us to initiate a detailed review until they’ve exhausted all of their alternatives,” he said.
The Waukesha Common Council in April voted to apply for DNR approval to buy Lake Michigan water to solve the city’s dual problem of water shortages and radium contamination in wells. Since then, city officials have brought up the idea of using treatment systems to remove radium from water or combining other alternative sources of groundwater.
The city must study those alternatives in more detail and decide whether they have any possibility of working before asking for state permission to tap Lake Michigan, Baker said.
If the city does stick to its plan to buy Lake Michigan water, Baker said, it must also decide who it will buy water from before submitting a revised application.
The city application estimates it will cost $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.
But those figures do no specify whether Waukesha will buy water from Milwaukee, Oak Creek or Racine.
Waukesha has listed all three communities as potential sources.
Baker said the DNR needs cost estimates that are specific to one of the three options, so the city must settle on one community from which to buy before reapplying.
“They always have the option to change later,” Baker said, “and then they’d have to adjust their application.”
Baker said there is no deadline by which the city must resubmit its application.