News Feature | December 19, 2017

After Long Wait, Waukesha Gets Lake Michigan Water Deal

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

lake michigan reg new

The city of Waukesha, WI, has been working for decades to gain access to Lake Michigan drinking water and this month it finally landed a deal to accomplish that.

The city council in Milwaukee, WI, approved a 40-year deal to sell water to Waukesha, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“The Milwaukee connection will cost an estimated $286.2 million, or nearly $40 million less than the option of tapping into Oak Creek's distribution system, Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said. Those savings will be passed on to utility ratepayers, who will pay around $200 less per year with Milwaukee as the supplier than with Oak Creek,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

“Even so, residential water rates will rise from an average of $400 a year to an estimated $1,200 a year by 2027, as Waukesha pays for the project. The water utility's goal is to hold residential water rates to $1,000 per year or less,” the report continued, citing Duchniak.

The deal makes Waukesha the first community outside the Great Lakes Basin to get access to lake water under the terms of a 2008 multi-state agreement, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

Waukesha has been waiting a long time to gain access to coveted Lake Michigan drinking water. Political and environmental groups objected to a study that found Waukesha needed access to the lake, the report said. Environmentalists argued an endless number of communities near the Great Lakes could be tempted to try similar strategies. It was only as recently as August that the Journal Sentinel reported the mayors of Great Lakes states dropping their opposition to Waukesha accessing lake water.

“The idea to tap into Lake Michigan dates back decades and eventually became the subject of an extensive study that considered all of [Waukesha’s] options. That study, conducted in conjunction with the state's Department of Natural Resources, ultimately determined that only the lake water option would be a sustainable source for the city, rather than using aquifer groundwater sources that are already depleted,” the Journal Sentinel previously reported.

Critics of the Waukesha deal had been concerned about setting a bad precedent and opening the door for other parties to raid the Great Lakes for drinking water.

In one example of outsiders eyeing Great Lakes water, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, in a bid to win the presidency ten years ago, called for diverting Great Lakes water to the drought-plagued Southwest. “States like Wisconsin are awash in water,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Lake Michigan," © 2006 Qfamily, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/