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Waukesha to buy Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee

The city of Waukesha will buy Lake Michigan water from its neighbor to the east, Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced on Monday.

Waukesha plans to eventually use the Great Lake as its new source of municipal water, following the construction of a pipeline and other infrastructure needed to draw water from the lake and deliver it to the city.

Waukesha officials last year made big steps toward that goal after securing various required governmental permissions and selecting a firm to plan and design the estimated $285 million water-diversion project. They have also reached an agreement with Milwaukee Water Works to provide water from Lake Michigan to the Waukesha Water Utility.

For weeks the city reviewed water-supply bids from both the cities of Milwaukee and Oak Creek. Reilly said Milwaukee was ultimately chosen because it could provide the water at a lower cost. Specifically, Waukesha is avoiding nearly $40 million in capital costs that it would have incurred had it instead chose Oak Creek.

“Waukesha and Milwaukee have come together to benefit both our cities and we hope this will lead to additional collaborations for the common good of our residents and businesses,” Reilly said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Similarly, Barrett called the agreement “the most significant intergovernmental agreement in the history of southeastern Wisconsin.”

The agreements will cause water rates to increase for Waukesha residents. Even so, officials pointed out that using Milwaukee as the water supplier will avoid about $200 in annual water fees that the average household in Waukesha would have had to pay had the city gone with other suppliers. The wholesale rate for water sold to the Waukesha utility will be set by the Public Service Commission, similar to Milwaukee’s 15 other retail and wholesale customers.

The agreement will be taken up by both the Waukesha and Milwaukee common councils for review and approval.

Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, said on Monday the design work “is going very well,” and that he expects the permitting process to begin between late summer and early fall next year. Construction is scheduled to begin some time between 2019 and 2020, and should be finished in 2023. The project will entail the construction of pumping structures and a 15.6-mile pipeline roughly from 60th Street to Howard Avenue in Milwaukee to Waukesha.

The Chicago-based environmental engineering firm Greeley and Hansen was tapped last fall to, among other things, manage the permitting, design and construction of the project. A general contractor for the project has yet to be chosen.

Waukesha needs a new source of drinking water since the aquifer it uses is being slowly depleted. What’s more, as the aquifer dries up, it becomes more and more contaminated with sediment. A study from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources concluded Lake Michigan is the only viable alternative source of water.

City officials were given permission last year by the Great Lakes Compact Council to draw water from the lake. The council is a group of eight states that border the Great Lakes and that manage and protect the bodies of water. Without this special permission, Waukesha would be prohibited from using the lake water because the city is outside the watershed’s boundaries.

Waukesha can pipe in as much as 8.2 million gallons of water a day from the lake. After being used in Waukesha and treated, the water will return using a second pipeline from a clean-water plant to an outfall point in the city of Franklin emptying into the Root River. The water will ultimately flow back into Lake Michigan.

Waukesha has until 2023 to meet a federal requirement to reduce the level of radium in the city’s water supply. Duchniak said the water-diversion system should be in place and operating before that deadline.

Milwaukee residents are meanwhile expected to see a number of direct benefits from the deal.
Jennifer Gonda, superintendent of Milwaukee Water Works, said Milwaukee ratepayers will save an estimated $40 million over the first 20 years of the agreement.
Also included in the deal is a one-time payment of $2.5 to Milwaukee. Ghassan Korban, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of Public Works, said Mayor Barrett is proposing to put all of that money toward the replacement of water-service laterals.
This cash infusion would allow for the replacement of laterals at an estimated 225 properties, Gonda said. That work is scheduled to take place in 2020, the same year that infrastructure is expected to built in the city as part of the water-diversion project.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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