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Request for reconsideration of Waukesha water approval is unfounded

By Shawn Reilly
Waukesha Mayor

There is no new information to support a request for a new hearing on the approval of Waukesha’s request to borrow water from the Great Lakes and then return it.

A group of cities is asking for a new hearing on the approval by the eight states of the Great Lakes Council in June. That council unanimously approved our request to borrow and return Lake Michigan water under the Great Lakes Compact. The claims by the cities group were thoroughly reviewed during that rigorous approval process. There is nothing new in the request by the cities that hasn’t already been considered by the Great Lakes states and provinces.

Waukesha’s application underwent six years of review by teams of experts in the state of Wisconsin, seven other Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces.

This was a scientific, legal and non-partisan review, as required by the compact, by the states and provinces that wrote the law. I don’t see any reason to think the council will change its determination that we met the legal requirements, and will actually benefit a Great Lakes tributary and the watershed.

It’s hard to understand why other cities — that certainly know the importance of safe drinking water — are choosing to challenge a project that will provide safe drinking water to our citizens without causing harm to the Great Lakes. If there were a threat to the compact’s protection of the Great Lakes, it would come from forcing the Great Lakes states to needlessly defend themselves against the legal challenge that might eventually be pursued by the cities.

The Great Lakes Compact, which became law in 2008, generally prohibits water from being pumped beyond the surface divide of the Great Lakes. However, municipalities that, like Waukesha, are in counties that straddle the divide can apply for water. But a municipality qualifies only if it can show it has no other reasonable alternative water supply and that it will recycle the water back to the Great Lakes after use and treatment.

Waukesha needs a new water supply because the recharge of its aquifer by rain and snow is hindered by a layer of rock above the watershed. Waukesha’s water is also contaminated with naturally occurring radium, a carcinogen.

Waukesha will not harm the Great Lakes. We will borrow less than 1/1,000,000th of 1 percent of Great Lakes water. We will return approximately 100 percent of the volume of water that we withdraw. In fact, our current groundwater wells pull some of the water that they pump from the Lake Michigan watershed. That means a switch to Lake Michigan surface water will actually increase the amount of water in the Great Lakes watershed by more than 500 million gallons per year. There will be few, if any, other communities in straddling counties that can make the same case.

The approval by the Great Lakes states also found that returning the water to Lake Michigan using the Root River will provide environmental benefits, including increased flow for salmon and other fish.

Almost all wastewater plants discharge to rivers and streams. The only thing unusual about our discharge is that we provide treatment to a much greater extent than all but a handful of other communities in our state. The water we return is actually cleaner than the water found in the Root River.

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