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Waukesha, Oak Creek continue talks about diverting Lake Michigan water

Western neighbor hopes to have agreement by July

May 16, 2012

Oak Creek - The city of Waukesha continues negotiations with the cities of Oak Creek, Racine and Milwaukee to provide Lake Michigan water to its residents.

The Common Council on Tuesday heard a presentation from Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak on Waukesha's water needs.

As Waukesha's groundwater supply drops deeper into the ground, Duchniak explained, water quality continues to worsen. With wells already beginning to draw salt water and radium-contaminated water, the city has been forced to abandon some of its deep-aquifer wells. Even water drawn from shallow wells must be treated for iron and manganese, and recently arsenic has been detected as well, Duchniak added.

The city of Waukesha is under court order to come into compliance with the radium standard by June 2018, he said. In order to do so, the city must either treat its existing water supply or develop a new supply. After considering numerous alternatives, diverting water from Lake Michigan is clearly the most sustainable long-term solution, Duchniak said.

"We believe through all the studies that we've done, if we go a different route, we're going to be back 30 to 40 years from now, and we're going to be here asking again for Lake Michigan water," Duchniak said.

The mayors of Oak Creek, Racine and Milwaukee in March questioned Waukesha's need for Lake Michigan water in a letter to Waukesha's mayor and Common Council president, citing concerns ranging from water conservation to what service area Waukesha intends to provide water to.

Waukesha's plan would be to divert water from Lake Michigan to its community, with a return flow to Underwood Creek. The city would be returning 100 percent of the water it uses on a five-year average, Duchniak said.

Further, Duchniak assured Oak Creek officials that only 15 percent of its entire proposed service area is available for future growth, most of which would be residential growth.

Meanwhile, the financial benefit to the water-supplying communities would be considerable, he said.

"The amount of money that we would be bringing in … would be about 50 percent of the revenue requirement that you currently have," Duchniak said. "It's a significant amount of money that would be coming into the city of Oak Creek."

Considering the extra distance and additional pumping station required to transport water from Oak Creek to Waukesha, vs. Milwaukee to Waukesha, District 2 Alderman Dan Bukiewicz questioned how Waukesha expects to provide water from Oak Creek at a cost competitive with that of Milwaukee.

Duchniak said that Waukesha has been in discussions with Oak Creek and neighboring communities on how to maximize the use of existing infrastructure to help reduce costs.

Alderman Mike Toman asked whether Waukesha had considered other alternatives for returning water to Lake Michigan, to which Duchniak said the Root River could also be an option, as well as underground piping going all the way back to Lake Michigan.

Oak Creek officials did not discuss the status of negotiations with Waukesha, and no action was taken by the Common Council.

Duchniak said Waukesha hopes to have negotiated the terms of an agreement with a water supplier by July.

Waukesha has submitted its application for Great Lakes water to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and it is now undergoing a rigorous review by the Great Lake states and Canadian provinces required under the Great Lakes Compact.

AT A GLANCE

Background on Waukesha's application for Great Lakes water can be found at ci.waukesha.wi.us/982.

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