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Decision closer on Wisconsin town's proposed diversion of Lake Michigan Water

by Tim Anderson ~ July/August 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A Wisconsin town’s plan to divert an average of 10.1 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day may soon be in the hands of the region’s eight governors. The city of Waukesha’s request is expected to be an important test of how basinwide decisions are made under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Compact.
To get to the governors, though, the plan must first be deemed “approvable” by environmental officials in Wisconsin. This summer, the state Department of Natural Resources’ preliminary review of the proposal concluded that Waukesha met all of the technical requirements — for example, returning treated wastewater to Lake Michigan and meeting water quality standards.
“Waukesha does not have a reasonable water supply alternative … and the community cannot meet water supply needs through conservation of existing supplies,” the department said of two other criteria for tapping into Great Lakes water.
Later this year, the department will release its final technical review and decision.
The next step is a “declaration of finding process” conducted by the Great Lakes basin’s eight states and two Canadian provinces. Lastly, all eight governors would have to approve the plan.
Though state legislators do not have a role in the decision-making process, they may decide to weigh in on the proposal as it moves to the compact’s regional body for review. Last year, a Michigan resolution was introduced (HCR 18) urging Gov. Rick Snyder to stop the diversion; it did not advance.
Opponents of Waukesha’s plan want the city to abandon the idea of diversion and instead employ radium-
treatment technologies on its drinking-water wells. They contend that this alternative would save local ratepayers money and protect public health and the environment. Waukesha has a radium-contamination problem in its drinking water and is under a court order to find a permanent solution by 2018.