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Another Voice: Waukesha’s water diversion should be denied

By Sandy Hamm, Steve Edlund and Steven Schmuki

We’d like to provide a personal perspective to people living in the cities, towns and villages on and near the Great Lakes who have read about the Waukesha, Wis., bid for Great Lakes water and wondered about the seriousness of the problem and viability of potential solutions.

As the Great Lakes governors and Canadian premiers meet to consider the City of Waukesha’s plan to divert Great Lakes water over the subcontinental divide, consider these facts:

More than 45 communities in Wisconsin alone have the same radium problem and are successfully treating their water supply to provide clean, healthy drinking water to their residents – all without any Great Lakes diversions.

For 19 months between late 2011 and mid-2013, the city provided radium-compliant water to its customers. Full, year-round compliance can be accomplished by the installation of HMO radium filters on three deep aquifer wells for a fraction of the cost of the proposed diversion.

Currently Waukesha uses 6.6 million gallons of water a day but wants up to 16.7 million per day from the lake. Clearly, the city is more interested in growth and expansion than addressing its obligation to provide its current residents with clean water. The city claimed the groundwater table was dropping as much as 5 to 7 feet each year. Based on U.S. Geological Survey monitoring data and Water Utility well reports, the deep aquifer stopped declining around the year 2000 and has now risen to levels not seen since the 1980s.

Waukesha’s application includes an expanded service area that doubles in size its existing water service area. These expansion areas do not currently need, and have stated they do not foresee a need, for city water in the future.

For decades Waukesha embraced the annexation of hundreds of acres outside its borders, approved subdivisions large and small, courted commercial sprawl and handed out permits for apartment buildings within its borders, knowing full well that it did not have the resources or infrastructure necessary to support that growth, and while claiming a crisis of contaminated water and plummeting groundwater levels. If the crisis were real, wouldn’t it be responsible to halt expansion at least until the crisis was resolved?

Based on the city’s history of mismanaging its resources, its continuing expansions and its cursory interpretation of the Great Lakes Compact, Waukesha has not made its case for diversion and cannot be trusted to determine this important precedent for the Great Lakes.

Sandy Hamm, Steve Edlund and Steven Schmuki are all longtime Waukesha residents.