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Tosa Tells Waukesha What It Can't Do with Its Water

DNR's second hearing on Lake Michigan water diversion proposal resonates to a different pitch downstream.

The subcontinental divide is a low, barely perceptible ridge that meanders along the eastern edge of Waukesha County and separates the waters that flow into the Mississippi River from those that flow into the Great Lakes.

In the contrast between the DNR's on Waukesha's application to buy Lake Michigan water, held Tuesday night in Pewaukee, and the second, held Wednesday night in Wauwatosa, that divide might as well be a mountain range.

Where the Pewaukee audience had public officials, private interests and even unions joining voices enthusiastically in favor of the plan, the Wauwatosa crowd grew just as warm in opposition.

Under the Waukesha Diversion Application to the DNR, the City of Waukesha and several other Waukesha County communities would draw an average of 10.9 million gallons of water per day from the Milwaukee system, use it, treat it and return it to Lake Michigan via a pipeline.

That pipe could run all the way back to the big lake, or to the Root River, or – the preferred plan, because it is the least expensive – to Underwood Creek.

Because the Great Lakes Compact demands that any eligible applicant must return 100 percent of the water withdrawn, that would amount to the average increase in flow in Underwood Creek and downstream – although in its application, Waukesha promises to turn off the spigot during high-water events and dump it into the Fox River, making up the difference later.

Because Underwood Creek flows through Wauwatosa and then into the Menomonee River not far above the repeatedly flood-ravaged Village area, what is preferred in Waukesha is distinctly not preferred in Tosa.

Speaker after speaker from Wauwatosa decried the plan, citing fears of flooding and water contamination, and questioning how Waukesha and the DNR could justify pumping 10.9 million extra gallons into either stream if both were already full to overflowing.

"We've stuck $6 million into Hart Park," former Tosa alderman and park commissioner Dick Bachman said. "I've spent years working on this, so have many other people. What will happen when Underwood Creek and the Fox River are in flood at the same time?"

Bachman waved a document – a resolution passed by the Milwaukee
County Board that called for piping the treated water all the way back to the lake.

"I live and breathe Wauwatosa," said Bachmann. "Please, pipe it direct to Lake Michigan."

Tosa Public Works Director Bill Porter used his four minutes of public hearing time to pick apart the many bits of information he did not find in Waukesha's application that he felt Tosa residents ought to have.

"My statement on behalf of the city derives from the fact that flow returns have impacts," he said, citing not just flooding but pollution, bacteria levels and erosion. "City residents should not have to guess at those impacts."

Cheryl Nenn of Riverkeeper said, "We don't think Waukesha has made its case... in both the water supply (from Lake Michigan) and return.

"There has only been a cursory look at the other alternatives. It's only a preferred choice in that it's an economic choice."

Ald. Dennis McBride of Wauwatosa's 4th District picked up the threads both Bachmann and Nenn laid down, saying forcefully that Waukesha was only trying to save money at anyone else's expense and that Wauwatosa could not afford even the merest threat of more flooding.

"Just to the east of here was a historic neighborhood that was wiped out by back-to-back 100-year floods," McBride said. "And it hasn't stopped. I hear all the time from my constituents, 'My basement is flooding,' the fears of more flooding.

"No one that I know has said to me, 'Please, Alderman McBride, please send more water down our creek, into our river.'

"If the City of Milwaukee wants to sell water to Waukesha, there's nothing I can do about it. But I have something to say about it being sent back through Wauwatosa.

"It is time for Waukesha to pay the cost of urban sprawl. Are they going to cap their population? Of course not.

"My constituents are not going to benefit from this in any way."

Two proponents of the plan did show up in Tosa – one sitting and one former Waukesha aldermen.

Ald. Chris Hernandez, 3rd District-Waukesha, simply read a statement detailing the dire situation his city faces if a viable alternative to the shrinking and ailing water supply is not replaced with lake water.

But former Waukesha Ald. Paul Furrer feistily defended his city's choice of plans.

"I completely sympathize with my counterpart in Wauwatosa," Furrer said, referring to Ald. McBride. "I hear from my constituents, too, and I know there is no excuse they are going to listen to when so much as one extra drop of water comes down the street and ends up in their basement.

"But we are not urban sprawl. My city has been there for 180 years. We are the urban center of our county.

"And we are not going to dry up and blow away."

Sonia July 28, 2011 at 02:33 PM
Thank you former Ald. Furrer for speaking up for Waukesha!
Paul S July 28, 2011 at 03:15 PM
I still do not want to spend millions of dollars to expand the city water system here in Waukesha so that future development can occur. The inequity of Waukesha water customers spending millions and the surrounding communities spending nothing has still not been addressed. If they can still tap the existing aquifer we have saved them from spending millions... you're welcome Brookfield et all... If Waukesha residents have benefited at all from the residential expansion that has taken place in the last 25 years or so, show me the money.
Greg Walz-Chojnacki July 28, 2011 at 03:41 PM
I'm not asking Waukesha to "dry up and blow away," just to live within their resources.
tootsieraul July 29, 2011 at 01:59 AM
Paul S, Have you heard a peep about Waukesha County suburbs coughing up a penny to help the city with the diversion cost (and subsequent ongoing expenditures) from the County Executive? He says he loves the city, but he doesn't live here. No. As long as the city has the biggest straw in the deep aquifer, the city holds all the cards in the southeast Wisconsin. The Waukesha Common Council is too incompetent to recognize this.
John Pokrandt September 14, 2011 at 02:39 PM
I absolutely will not stand for any plan which does potential harm to Wauwatosa. Waukesha has a water problem and they need to pay for a solution that does not impact Milwaukee County residents. The Alderman from Waukesha must be kidding, the whole County is urban sprawl. They have no use for Milwaukee County but expect us to help them save some money, I think not. Thank you Alderman McBride for calling these people out.

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