Waukesha has been toiling over a tedious application to which a LOT of people are paying attention, including a coalition of conservationists.
The city has a nagging water issue – as its deep aquifer depletes, Waukesha is drawing up higher concentrations of radium. And that led to a court order to come up with a solution by 2018.
And that led Waukesha to draft the first application to draw water from one of the Great Lakes after the Great Lakes Compact was sealed. Waukesha is allowed to make its case because it fits a unique criteria of the Compact; the city is located within a county that straddles the Great Lakes basin.
But a collection of conservation and environmental groups – called the Compact Implementation Coalition – banded together to serve as watchdog to ensure a strong Great Lakes Compact.
The group sent a letter to the DNR last week (July 1) calling on the agency to make Waukesha’s application public AND to hold ample public hearings in order to allow citizens to weigh in on the process.
Coalition member Peter McAvoy says the heart of his group's concern revolves around the evolving nature of Waukesha’s request.
"They've changed where they want to get their water from; where their pipelines would be; they've changed water conservation practices. Their water use is changing, in fact it's been declining from what we can tell over the past several years."
The coalition also believes Waukesha's shift in where treated water will be channeled on its return to Lake Michigan should be scrutinized.
McAvoy believes an application so altered should be made available to the public before the DNR moves into its comprehensive review process.
"We're asking the Department of Natural Resources at this time, given all of these changes, that they hold public hearings on that document, before they begin their internal review."
Condensing Waukesha's request to a manageable size and length for public consumption could prove to be a daunting task.
In its current form, McAvoy asserts, the document is huge and unwieldy.
"And it has changed so much that it would be very hard to find specific information on particular components of this application at this point in time. "
In its July 1 letter to the DNR, the Compact Implementation Coalition called for detailed side-by-side comparisons of alternatives Waukesha might have to provide reliable, clean water for its residents.
McAvoy says iti s inaccurate to describe his group as being dead set against Waukesha tapping into Lake Michigan.
"If Waukesha can make the case that it really is in a unique circumstance and that it should get a diversion, and they can establish that, our coalition would go along with that. We haven't seen it yet, but it's possible that they can make that case, and mak a compelling case not only to the state of Wisconsin, but to the other states as well."
McAvoy says eyes around the Great Lakes are watching the Waukesha application unfold, including those of the Canadian press.
"An article just yesterday in Toronto was pointing out that this is raising alarm bells across the border and throughout the Great Lakes basin, because they understand that this will be the first case, the first precedent for the Great Lakes Compact and people are concerned about that in New York, and Toronoto and Minnesota and everywhere else."
If Waukesha is to be successful, its application will ultimately require approval from all states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes.