Water Service Area Compromise Falls Short at Milwaukee Common Council Meeting
Milwaukee remains out of negotiations for a water sales agreement with Waukesha while Lake Michigan water sales agreements are being finalized with Oak Creek and Racine.
A Milwaukee alderman who was trying to introduce a resolution as a compromise to allow Milwaukee to begin a water sales negotiation with Waukesha fell short Tuesday.
Alderman Jim Bohl had introduced a resolution that would negate the council’s previous action that allows for Milwaukee to negotiate for Waukesha’s current water service area but excludes portions that are in the future water supply service area. However, the modified resolution, which would begin negotiations with two separate agreements, failed with one yes vote, 13 no votes and one excused vote, according to the Milwaukee Common Council’s Twitter account.
Bohl was trying to begin negotiations with two separate agreements, one for Waukesha’s current water service area and one for the city’s future water service area. Waukesha’s future water service area is set by the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission and includes property in the towns of Waukesha, Delafield and Genesee and City of Pewaukee. The Milwaukee Common Council decided earlier this month it would negotiate only with Waukesha’s current water service area.
“To have separate negotiated deals allows the City of Waukesha to proceed forward with a contingency plan in hand,” Bohl said in a news release. “In this scenario Waukesha also gets to negotiate for Milwaukee water – the best and least expensive option for them.”
Bohl described Milwaukee’s negotiation position as a “game of chicken,” according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The newspaper reports that another aldermen then described Milwaukee as a “Mack truck” and Waukesha as a “motor scooter” during Tuesday's meeting.
Waukesha is already in the middle of negotiations with Oak Creek and Racine for a potential Lake Michigan water deal. Waukesha is anticipating a water sales agreement to be finalized between Waukesha and either Oak Creek or Racine by the end of summer.
The Waukesha Water Utility warned Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett last week that Milwaukee’s current stance on water negotiations would keep Milwaukee from pursuing a water deal with Waukesha.
Barrett has also requested an official ruling by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources about Waukesha’s future water service area.
A letter from the DNR to Duchniak states that in order to receive Lake Michigan water, the diversion has to be approved for the water supply area under state statutes.
“The department is prohibited from limiting a water supply service area based on jurisdictional boundaries, except as necessary to prevent the waters of the Great Lakes basin from being transferred to a county that lies entirely outside the Great Lakes basin,” states the letter from the DNR.
The Waukesha Common Council agreed two years ago to apply for Great Lakes water as its primary option to reduce the radium levels. The city needs approvals first from the DNR and the Wisconsin governor. Then the application advances to all the Great Lakes states, which have to also approve the application because the City of Waukesha is located just outside the Great Lakes basin. A portion of Waukesha County lies within the basin.
The city's application to divert the water from Lake Michigan is currently pending with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Waukesha is looking to pipe water from Lake Michigan; it also plans to return the water to the Great Lakes.
The first of several water rate increases because of the project has already been implemented. The Public Service Commission approved a 27 percent rate increase last week as Waukesha looks to develop a new water source.
In addition to being under a June 2018 deadline to remove radium from the city’s water supplies, Waukesha has declining water quality and quantity in its eight deep wells and three shallow wells, which is why it is looking to purchase Lake Michigan water.