Tag Archives: diversion

Public record: majority opposes Waukesha quest to divert water

More than 99 percent of those who registered comments in a regional review explicitly opposed or expressed concern over Waukesha’s request to divert Great Lakes water.

More than 11,200 public comments were submitted to the Regional Body and Compact Council on the issue and many opposed the proposal, according to a review of the comments completed by a coalition of environmental groups — the Compact Implementation Coalition consists of River Alliance of Wisconsin, National Wildlife Federation, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Clean Wisconsin.

The coalition said of the 315 tribes, First Nations, governments, elected leaders, organizations and associations that submitted or signed on to comments regarding Waukesha’s application, 256 explicitly opposed, expressed concern or had unanswered questions about the city of Waukesha’s application.

Also, in six of the eight Great Lakes states and both Canadian provinces, not a single tribe, First Nation, government, elected leader, organization or association submitted or signed on to a comment explicitly supporting Waukesha’s application.

“Anyone paying attention to the polarized nature of today’s political climate knows this level of agreement across political divides and international boundaries is nothing short of astounding,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “The extent of public concern and outcry shown, speaks to how important this first-of-its-kind regional decision will be seen by citizens throughout the Great Lakes region.”

Waukesha, located about 17 miles west of Lake Michigan, wants to divert water from Lake Michigan. To do so, the Milwaukee suburb needs an exception from the Great Lakes compact and agreement that restrict diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin. The city lies outside the Great Lakes basin but is in a county that straddles the basin.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources completed its review of the city’s application earlier this year and sent the issue on to the Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec for consideration.

A regional public comment period on the application review closed in mid-March.

Next the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Regional Body and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Compact Council — composed of the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers — will meet to reach a decision on the application.

The meeting is expected in April. The eight Great Lakes governors are allowed to vote. The council could approve, deny or approve with conditions the application. Only one “no” vote is required to deny the application.

“The public has definitely spoken on this topic, and we feel strongly those voices need to be heard,” said Jennifer Bolger Breceda of Milwaukee Riverkeeper. “We hope this outpouring signals to the Regional Body and Compact Council that they need to take these many, many concerns into consideration while reviewing this flawed proposal and deny Waukesha’s diversion request.”

On the Web

For more information about the application, visit www.protectourgreatlakes.org and http://www.waukeshadiversion.org.

Waukesha’s water grab should be rejected

If the city of Waukesha has its way, a dangerous precedent will be set for the entire Great Lakes region.

This Wisconsin community wants the Great Lakes governors to sign off on a first-of-its-kind diversion application that fails to meet the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact, a much heralded regional agreement signed into federal law in 2008.

In recognition that the Great Lakes remain a critically important natural resource to the region at large, the compact categorically bans diversions of Great Lakes water except under extremely limited circumstances and then only to communities that have no other reasonable options. This is not the case with Waukesha.

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency identified Waukesha as one of more than 50 Wisconsin communities with too much radium in its water. These committees were asked to take action to make their water safe to drink by 2006. Most did so, but not the city of Waukesha.

Unlike the dozens of other Wisconsin communities that invested in radium treatment and other reasonable solutions, Waukesha chose to look to the Great Lakes, one of our region’s most precious and fragile freshwater resources, to bail it out.

What’s more, Waukesha’s proposed Great Lakes diversion option promises to cost $150 million more than a non-diversion alternative, which would enable Waukesha to meet its drinking water needs by adding common-sense, available treatment technologies to its deep groundwater wells, while continuing to use its shallow wells.

Moreover, it appears that Waukesha’s diversion application is based not on the needs of its current city residents, but rather on the purported needs of households, and portions of other neighboring communities, included in a far larger water supply service area created by a state planning law. This expanded water supply service area almost doubles the size of the city’s current water supply service area.

Nowhere does the Great Lakes compact allow for a diversion based on the possible future needs of expanded service areas. And the households and commercial entities located within this expanded area fail to meet two of the compact’s central requirements: they have not shown any real need for Great Lakes water nor demonstrated significant water conservation efforts to date.

Wisconsin’s reliance on a state planning law designed to foster growth as justification for this contentious, expanded water supply service area is equally misplaced, because the provisions of the Great Lakes Compact inarguably trump state law.

Finally, beyond its failure to comply with core compact requirements, Waukesha’s diversion application shows a blatant disregard for the people of Racine, a city struggling in a different and far greater scale than the city of Waukesha. It is Racine that will be forced to bear the public health risks and clean-up costs relating to Waukesha’s return of partially treated wastewater through the Root River, which runs through the heart of Racine and empties into the city’s Lake Michigan harbor. This is simply wrong.

In order to secure the protection and viability of our magnificent Great Lakes for generations to come, the Great Lakes governors on the Compact Council must ensure that the core principles of the Great Lakes Compact are fully and truly honored. For its shortcomings and missteps, Waukesha’s application must be denied.

Jodi Habush Sinykin is an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, a Madison-based nonprofit group that works to protect water resources. The group is a member of the Compact Implementation Coalition.


State sends Waukesha application to divert Lake Michigan water to regional review

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this week forwarded the city of Waukesha’s application to divert Lake Michigan water for a formal regional review process.

Waukesha’s application is the first test to the ban on diversions in the Great Lakes Compact and it is not supported by many environmental groups in the Great Lakes region.

“It is our hope and expectation that the regional review process will consider in earnest the deficiencies we have identified in the application and that the Regional Body will recognize that it does not fully and honestly met the standards laid out in the compact,” Jodi Habush Sinykin, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, said in a news release on Jan. 7.

Sinykin continued, “Quite simply, this application, as currently proposed, falls short and should be rejected by the Great Lakes governors in keeping with the imperative to protect our region’s precious Great Lakes for future generations.”

This decision on the application sets the standard by which other applications will be measured and determines when, where and how often citizens across the Great Lakes region will be allowed to voice their opinions in future decisions.

During a public briefing held by the Regional Body and Compact Council on Jan. 7, a budget for the entire review process was set at $261,668. There’s concern the budget is inadequate to provide for a full review. The process is intended to provide the public in all eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces, in addition to tribes and First Nations, the opportunity to review and decide whether the application meets the standards laid out in the compact.

“We are concerned that the current budget does not allow for any independent technical review on the part of the Regional Body and Compact Council and only allows for one public hearing in the city of Waukesha, which would limit the public’s full participation in this critical process,” said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “If you don’t write a budget that allows for multiple public hearings in each jurisdiction, you limit the ability of the public to participate right from the start. This is a precedent setting decision. Every Great Lakes governor of every Great Lakes state needs the best information available to make an informed decision, and they need to know what the constituents they were elected to represent think about Waukesha’s application.”

The city of Waukesha says it does not have a reasonable water supply alternative to Lake Michigan water. However, a report by GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. shows Waukesha can meet its drinking water needs by implementing minimum conservation measures in its own conservation plan, excluding portions of communities that do not need and have publicly stated they do not want Great Lakes water and adding treatment technologies to three of seven deep groundwater wells while continuing to use shallow wells. This alternative would cost $150 million less than a diversion from Lake Michigan, secure water independence for Waukesha residents, protect public health and minimizes adverse environmental impacts, according to a release from a coalition of environmental groups and watchdog organizations.

Ezra Meyer, water specialist for Clean Wisconsin, said, “So far, in Wisconsin alone, the response has been overwhelmingly in opposition to the application as drafted and presented in Waukesha’s home state. To be clear, Wisconsin residents are  not opposed to all Great Lakes diversions under the Great Lakes Compact, but Wisconsin residents have repeatedly demonstrated that they are opposed to this application. Citizens across Wisconsin showed up to three public hearings, submitting over 3,000 comments and asking their state legislators to represent their concerns nationally.”

The process

The Regional Body consists of the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers. The Compact Council, which is made up of the eight Great Lakes governors, will either approve or deny the application, taking into account the Regional Body’s findings.

The Regional Body and Compact Council review will include a public comment period and at least one public hearing in Wisconsin, where citizens across the Great Lakes region will again be able to voice their concerns, this time to a wider audience.

The public comment period will last about 60 days, beginning on Jan. 12. There will be one public information meeting and public hearing held by on Feb. 18.

Great Lakes citizens can submit comments, write letters, call their governors and premiers and attend the public hearing to testify.  
 
The eight Great Lakes governors are Rick Snyder in Michigan, Mark Dayton in Minnesota, John Kasich in Ohio, Andrew Cuomo in New York, Mike Pence in Indiana, Bruce Rauner in Illinois, Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania and Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The two Canadian premiers are Kathleen Wynne in Ontario and Philippe Couillard in Quebec.

For more, go to www.waukeshadiversion.org.

Waukesha’s quest to divert Lake Michigan water challenged

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources opened the floodgates and in poured opposition to Waukesha’s quest to divert water from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha argues that diversion is the only answer to a court order to improve water quality by June 2018 and to also meet expected demands for more water in the area.

However, opponents make economical, technical and environmental arguments against diversion and maintain that diverting Lake Michigan water to the suburbs would worsen segregation and increase racial disparities in the region.

And then there’s the issue of precedence. Dozens of lawmakers from Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states, along with scientists, attorneys, community activists and environmentalists, emphasize that Waukesha’s quest for diversion is a test case. Approval could lead to applications from other thirsty jurisdictions outside what is known as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, which is protected by a historic 2008 compact, as well as an agreement with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

“What happens in Waukesha doesn’t stay in Waukesha,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation. “People from all across the Great Lakes region are concerned that Waukesha’s application does not meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact.”

The legislatures of the Great Lakes states — Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania — ratified the compact and Congress provided its consent. 

Waukesha is outside the basin, but Waukesha County straddles the basin and, according to the compact, a straddling county can request a diversion of water. 

Waukesha has been making — and revising — its case for diversion since at least 2010, when the city became the first municipality in the United States outside the basin to request a diversion under the 2008 compact.

Waukesha wants …

Waukesha, located 17 miles west of Lake Michigan, is under a 2009 court order to resolve naturally occurring radium contamination in its water supply by 2018. The city relies on a well system that draws from a deep sandstone aquifer but, according to the DNR’s summary of the application, “depressed water levels in the deep aquifer have compounded a problem of high radium concentration … in the groundwater.”

The city seeks to divert an annual average of 10.1 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan and a daily maximum of 16.7 million gallons by mid-century to accommodate a growing population and expansion.

The water would come from the Oak Creek Water Utility via a new pipeline.

After “consumptive use,” water would go to Waukesha’s wastewater treatment plant and then get discharged into the Root River and back into the Lake Michigan basin. 

The water supply and wastewater pipelines would be about 20 miles long and cost $207 million to build.

Waukesha’s application says its plan is “most protective of the environment — particularly regional ground and surface waters — and of public health.”

State says …

The DNR seems inclined to agree.

In June, the DNR said the application appears to meet key technical requirements and invited public comments on the proposal, as well as the DNR’s draft environmental impact statement.

“We appreciate the strong public interest surrounding this project,” stated Eric Ebersberger, section chief for water use in the DNR’s drinking and groundwater bureau.

After releasing the draft review, the state held a series of public hearings in Waukesha, Milwaukee and Racine and collected written comments.

“We were impressed but in no way surprised at the great turnout at all three public hearings,” said Cheryl Nenn, an official at Milwaukee Riverkeeper, a science-based advocacy organization. “This is an important issue for our state and our region and a decision that will affect people’s lives and our Great Lakes, which are only 1 percent renewable by rain or snowmelt. The number of people at the hearings sends a very clear message to the DNR that the public is taking this diversion decision very seriously and they should too.”

Ezra Meyer of the environmental group Clean Wisconsin said of the interest in the issue: “People from all across the Great Lakes Basin and across Wisconsin care about this world-class resource.”

Flood of opposition

In addition to the 500 or so people who attended the hearings, thousands wrote in response to he DNR’s call for public comment.

The Compact Implementation Coalition — member organizations include Milwaukee Riverkeeper, National Wildlife Federation, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Clean Wisconsin, Waukesha County Environmental Action League, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and attorney Peter McAvoy — helped people submit more than 2,600 comments challenging the application.

Also, a dozen legal and technical experts affiliated with the CIC filed a lengthy response to the application, arguing that Waukesha failed to:

• Justify why it needs to more than double its daily maximum water supply;

• Consider reasonable alternatives to provide potable water.

The CIC also said Waukesha wants to divert Great Lakes water for communities that do not need the water or that have not employed conservation measures.

Earlier in the summer, the CIC suggested a “Nondiversion Solution.” The proposal said Waukesha “can supply its growing population with safe, clean water, now and in the future, by blending deep- and shallow-aquifer water and updating its outdated technology to ‘best available’ technology for removing radium and other contaminants.” 

Waukesha, however, dismissed the “solution” as having critical flaws. In a news release, Waukesha Water Utility general manager Dan Duchniak said, “The proposal by our opponents fails to recognize environmental impacts, fails to supply the volume of water claimed, fails to comply with radium standards and fails to account for predictable costs.”

He said Waukesha only wants to “withdraw one one-millionth of 1 percent of Great Lakes water.”

Meyer, of Clean Wisconsin, said, “The bottom line is that Waukesha’s application doesn’t pass legal muster. The Great Lakes Compact does not allow diversions for future water use. … Waukesha admits that it doesn’t need the water now and is applying for future unknown, unsubstantiated water needs.”

Meyer called Waukesha’s proposal “fatally flawed” and noted strong grassroots opposition.

Allies in the fight include the Sierra Club, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope and the NAACP-Milwaukee Branch.

The racial justice groups object to Waukesha’s application because diverting water to the suburbs will worsen segregation and racial disparities.

Waukesha, in its application, makes clear that it wants a diversion of water to accommodate growth — industrial, commercial and residential expansion.

Representatives with the racial justice groups say the planned growth means continued suburban sprawl and job migration from Milwaukee. This, said Fred Royal, president of Milwaukee’s NAACP branch, perpetuates racial and economic segregation “to the clear disadvantage of persons of color, especially African-Americans.”

“Thus far, the environmental impact study has utterly failed to address, much less resolve, the needs and concerns of communities of color,” added Karyn Rotker, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the Great Lakes states also object to the application, making it clear that if the Wisconsin DNR sanctions diversion, approval remains a long shot. Support for diversion must be unanimous among the states in the compact.

“Since the compact was signed into law, this is the first time a community has asked for a diversion,” said Wisconsin state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Madison. “I think the reason so many legislators are concerned is because of a shared sense of needing to get this right.”

Great agreement

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is a historic agreement among the eight Great Lakes states.

The agreement went into effect on Dec. 8, 2008, to protect habitat and wildlife from water diversions from the basin and promote water management within the basin.

An agreement among the Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement also exists to protect natural resources.

Any diversion of water outside the basin must be reviewed for impact.

The first significant test to the compact is Waukesha’s request to divert water. The application is pending before the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

— L.N.

UPDATED: Racial justice advocates, environmentalists oppose water diversion to Waukesha

UPDATED: A coalition of progressive, racial justice groups in Wisconsin is opposing Waukesha’s quest to divert water from Lake Michigan.

The announcement was released on Aug. 28, meeting a deadline for public comment to the state on the issue.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held three public hearings earlier in August to hear testimony on the city of Waukesha’s Great Lakes Water Diversion application and in response to the department’s release of its draft Environmental Impact Statement and Technical Review on June 25. The DNR held hearings in the cities of Waukesha, Milwaukee and Racine and saw well over 450 attendees, of which at least 100 provided verbal testimony to the DNR.

In addition, comments were submitted to the DNR outside the hearings.

Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, said, “We were impressed but in no way surprised at the great turn out at all three public hearings. This is an important issue for our state and our region and a decision that will affect people’s lives and our Great Lakes, which are only 1 percent renewable by rain or snowmelt. The number of people at the hearings sends a very clear message to the DNR that the public is taking this diversion decision very seriously and they should too.”

The NAACP-Milwaukee Branch, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and environmental attorney Dennis Grzezinski filed comments with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The groups asked the state to deny Waukesha’s application for diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

The groups object to the application because diverting water to the suburbs will worsen segregation and racial disparities in the region, according to a news release.

“Thus far, the environmental impact study has utterly failed to address, much less resolve, the needs and concerns of communities of color,” said Karyn Rotker, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

“Allowing a Lake Michigan water diversion to enable continued unrestrained sprawl and job migration will have the inevitable effect of perpetuating racial and economic segregation in the region, to the clear disadvantage of persons of color, especially African-Americans,” stated Fred Royal, president of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP.

The release from the coalition said it is one thing for a water diversion application to seek to serve an existing community that has no other alternative. It is quite another for a community to seek to divert water not only to meet its current needs, but to support and undergird industrial, commercial and residential expansion — especially when the benefits of that expansion exclude communities of color, mostly African-Americans, in the region.

“And the requested diversion is not needed to serve an existing “community” in need of water, as the Great Lakes Compact requires,” said Grzezinski.

As comments and studies submitted by others, such as the Compact Implementation Coalition, make clear, the city of Waukesha could meet its water needs without diverting Lake Michigan water. That it wants more water to support future growth and expansion outside the city limits does not justify the diversion, the coalition said.

“If a diversion is not used to increase development in the Waukesha suburbs, then there’s more incentive for those jobs and employers to locate or relocate in the city of Milwaukee,” added the Rev. Willie Brisco, MICAH president. “And we all know that is something our community needs.”

Also, on Aug. 28, environmental groups in Compact Implementation Coalition of environmental groups planned to submit comments “to the DNR expressing concerns that the city of Waukesha: 1) has not justified why it needs a daily maximum supply that is more than double its current use; 2) does not consider all reasonable alternatives to provide potable water for its residents; and 3) has not removed its request to divert Great Lakes water to communities who do not need it and who have not employed water conservation measures. The Compact requires these actions before an entity can request an exception from the ban on diversions.”

The CIC comments were written by more than a dozen legal and technical experts from nine local, state and regional environmental organizations.

“While the CIC’s comments will be some of the more extensive comments in opposition to Waukesha’s request for Great Lakes water, they will not be the only ones,” said Ezra Meyer of Clean Wisconsin. “People from all across the Great Lakes Basin and across Wisconsin care about this world-class resource. They fought hard to see the Great Lakes Compact passed to protect the Lakes for the long run and now they don’t want to see the compact or the lakes compromised. People from Ohio, Michigan and Illinois came to DNR’s hearings last week to tell our natural resources protection agency to say no, as did dozens of people from Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha. Residents and ratepayers in Waukesha know this is a bad deal. We are confident that the written comments submitted to the DNR by today’s deadline will reflect an even broader base of grassroots support for the Great Lakes and against Waukesha’s fatally flawed proposal.”

Since the DNR released its draft Environmental Impact Statement and Technical Review on June 25, the CIC has been working to make sure the public is aware of the consequences of approving Waukesha’s water diversion application as it stands.

“What happens in Waukesha doesn’t stay in Waukesha. People from all across the Great Lakes region are concerned that Waukesha’s diversion application does not meet the requirements in the Great Lakes Compact,” said Marc Smith, policy director at the National Wildlife Federation. 

“The public has spoken: Waukesha’s application to divert Great Lakes water is not in the best interests of the Great Lakes region,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “Wisconsin DNR must maintain the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact in both letter and spirit, by holding Waukesha’s application to its requirements and by making certain the science is sound, the data current, and the public’s questions answered before the application is approved.”

The DNR plans to release its final decision in December.

If approved by the Wisconsin DNR, all eight Great Lakes states governors will have the power to approve or deny the proposal and the premiers of two Canadian provinces will formally weigh in on the decision.