Waukesha 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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jamie K Johnson, flickr

The Wisconsin DNR announced Tuesday that it is pushing Waukesha’s water application forward.

The City’s deep wells are increasingly tainted by cancer-causing radium, so the utility wants to start drawing water from Lake Michigan.

The DNR has now signed off on the diversion plan and will forward it to the other Great Lakes states. Final approval requires yes votes from all eight governors.

Peter Annin attended all three DNR public hearings last August as the agency carried out its charge to scrutinize every facet of Waukesha’s application.

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Opinions dramatically conflicted, yet the first public hearing coordinated by the Wisconsin DNR ran smoothly and with civility at the jam-packed Carroll University.

Two more sessions will take place today: 1 pm in Milwaukee at the Zilber School of Public Health and at 5:30 pm in Racine at the downtown Masonic Center.

Monday evening, people shared their views on whether Waukesha should be allowed to divert Lake Michigan water.

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Standing close to the spot where Waukesha’s proposed pipe would discharge treated water, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee biologist Tim Ehlinger worries about the impact it could have on the Root River.

“The Root is a fabulous treasure. I think what’s gorgeous about it down here is you’ve got all this riparian wetland and wooded wetland that floods frequently and it provides for the life of the amphibians and the birds and the water quality,” he says.

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Waukesha hopes to pump in 10 million gallons a day from Oak Creek’s utility, then treat and return the water to Lake Michigan via the Root River.

The city says it’s the best way to solve its existing underground source that it’s becoming more tainted with cancer-causing radium.

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Waukesha’s proposal to tap into Lake Michigan is inching forward after years of debate and revision.

The city is under federal order to secure clean water for residents because their underground source is increasing concentrated with radium, a health hazard.

The state DNR recently gave the nod to Waukesha’s application.

Waukesha is one step closer in its quest to obtain Lake Michigan water.

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin DNR gave preliminary approval to the city’s plan. Waukesha’s underground source of water is dwindling and increasingly contaminated with radium, an element linked to cancer. So the city is under a federal order to take action. The final decision about getting water from Lake Michigan does not rest with the DNR.

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