Waukesha water

A Wisconsin town is getting a lot of attention these days -- on the issue of drinking water.

 

Waukesha lies outside the Great Lakes basin, but it has received permission to take water from Lake Michigan. Officials are still debating the impact of the precedent-setting decision – and a group of mayors is challenging the town’s action.

 

Meanwhile, Waukesha is moving full speed ahead.  


Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Waukesha reports that it is in full steam ahead mode with plans to deliver Lake Michigan water to its residents. At the meantime, a consortium of U.S. and Canadian mayors, the Great Lakes St Lawrence Cities Initiative, are fighting to halt the project.

While the Compact Council already cast its unanimous support in favor of Waukesha last summer, the body will listen to both sides in the next month or so.

Susan Bence

Although the Great Lakes governors approved Waukesha’s application, a coalition of Great Lakes mayors hopes to stop it.

This week, those who belong to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative announced that they would challenge the Compact Council’s decision.

The decision to allow Waukesha to divert Lake Michigan water does meet the rigorous standards of the Great Lakes Compact and therefore sets 'a very bad precedent,' according to the Cities Initiative. It is launching a legal challenge, in addition to asking President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and the International Joint Commission to stop the diversion.

    

Waukesha leaders continued to celebrate on Wednesday. Earlier this week, all eight Great Lakes states voted to allow the city to draw water from Lake Michigan.

The city sits outside the Great Lakes basin but says it needs the water because Waukesha’s underground supply is running low and is tainted with radium. Waukesha plans to pump-in Lake Michigan water from Oak Creek’s utility because talks with Milwaukee did not advance.

Susan Bence

Tuesday all eight Great Lake states said “yes” to Waukesha's request to draw water from Lake Michigan. It was a historic moment because it was the first test of the Great Lakes Compact, which restricts diversions outside the basin.

The city's underground water supply is dwindling and increasingly contaminated with cancer-causing radium, so Waukesha spent years building its case that the Great Lakes are its only sustainable source for clean drinking water.

Wisconsin DNR

Wednesday, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body completed the last step necessary to push the City of Waukesha’s request to draw Lake Michigan water for a final vote.

Waukesha maintains the Great Lakes provide the only sustainable solution to its radium-tainted well water.

The group’s job was to review the application, judge if it adheres to the tenets of the Great Lakes Compact and pass recommendations to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council, or Compact Council.

Susan Bence

Waukesha will have to wait at least another week to learn whether its request for Lake Michigan water may move forward. Great Lakes delegates met Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago. They were supposed to decide whether to recommend approval of Waukesha’s request; instead the group moved to delay.

Waukesha’s application to draw from the Basin is the first since the Great Lakes Compact came to life in 2008.

S Bence

Two days of crucial discussions that could affect Waukesha and its drinking water ended Friday afternoon in Chicago. Representatives of the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces scaled-back part of the city's plan to divert water from Lake Michigan. The changes are recommendations but could influence the final outcome in June. 

S Bence

The director of the Center for Water Policy at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, Jenny Kehl, says the pending decision on Waukesha's request to divert Great Lakes water will have national significance.

As Wells Go Deeper, Radium Levels Rise in Wisconsin's Tap Water

Mar 6, 2016
Matt Campbell / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

In 2014, the village of Sussex in southeast Wisconsin made a dismaying discovery. The radioactive element radium, a contaminant that occurs naturally in bedrock throughout the region, had seeped into two of its seven water wells.

It was not exactly a surprise. Radium has long been a problem in drinking water for dozens of Wisconsin communities from Green Bay to the Illinois border.

S Bence

The Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governor and Premiers held the only scheduled public hearing as it scrutinizes Waukesha’s application on Thursday.

City leaders say that after years of fine-tuning their application, diversion is the only viable solution to replace Waukesha's current water source – deep wells that have become increasingly contaminated with radium.

S Bence

At 3 pm today, Wisconsin's neighboring seven state and two Canadian provinces will listen to what the public has to say about Waukesha's request to draw water from the Great Lakes Basin.

The visiting delegates face an immense decision, and the Great Lakes Compact is their guide.

It came to life in 2008 after years of discussion and negotiation. The agreement bans diversions from the Great Lakes Basin, save rare exceptions.

S Bence

The International Joint Commission, or IJC, released that advice on Tuesday.

The U.S. and Canadian governments created the commission in 1909 to resolve disputes around “shared” waters.

The last time the International Joint Commission released a major report protecting the Great Lakes from diversions was in 2000.

S Bence

Waukesha has been working toward this moment for over a decade. On Thursday morning, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources forwarded Waukesha's application to draw drinking water from Lake Michigan to the remaining Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces.

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