Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

November 17, 2006

Lake Michigan water access could be near for Waukesha

OnMilwaukee.com carries this report on proposed amendment language to the Charter; language that would define how border areas to the basin could use water with the stipulation that it be returned to the lakes:

A decision on allowing Waukesha County to access Lake Michigan water could be just weeks away. But the special Legislative Council Committee on the Great Lakes Water Resource Compact this week deferred action on a proposal by Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak that would have allowed the community to access the water that so far has been denied.

Duchniak, a public member of the committee, proposed that the committee agree to create language in the proposed compact that states, “Tributary groundwater means the groundwater that would naturally flow to the Great Lakes in the absence of human activities that would influence that flow.”

If that definition applied and the compact language was recommended by the committee and passed by the state Legislature, Waukesha would be considered part of the basin and eligible to access Lake Michigan water.

Waukesha’s water supply has been limited because the deep municipal wells have brought up wate that has radium levels that violate U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Waukesha is located west of the subcontinental divide that has been identified as the border of the Lake Michigan basin.

The divide runs through New Berlin near Sunnyslope Road and proceeds northeast … Groundwater east of the divide tends to flow back to Lake Michigan while groundwater west of that geological point tends to flow toward the Mississippi River.

But the new compact being considered by eight Great Lakes states and two provinces in Canada would qualify Waukesha County as a straddling county, meaning because part of the county is in the basin, Lake Michigan water can be accessed by communities throughout the county.

But the key stipulation in that compact is that a nearly equal amount of wastewater must be sent by those communities back eastward across the divide to replace the lost water. … Waukesha is said to be considering using the Root River as a means to return that wastewater, rather than trying to build a prohibitively expensive piping system for the return.

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