By Karen Stokes
Once known for their clean, healing and good tasting spring water, the city of Waukesha is now faced with water that is polluted or has gone dry. Now they are looking to Lake Michigan as the solution to their water problems.
The once clean spring water in Waukesha has reached high radium levels that exceed federal limits. Although radium is a natural occurrence, longterm exposure can cause cancer.
The city has made several efforts to solve the problem. Efforts extend from using radium filters to blending water from deep wells with radium free water. Even with these attempts, Waukesha believes Lake Michigan is still the best option.
Through protest and negotiations with the state, Waukesha is facing a 2018 deadline to provide safe drinking water to their community.
In 2010, the Waukesha Common Council agreed to ask the Great Lakes states for permission to pipe Lake Michigan water to Waukesha to replace the contaminated water. In 2013, Waukesha applied to the Great Lakes Compact for permission.
The Great Lakes Compact was formed in 2008 to ban the diversion of Great Lakes water with limited exceptions and to set standards on how the water can be used. The Great Lakes Compact is made up of eight states including: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
There have been objections with many parties concerning Waukesha’s diversion request. Waukesha would need to get a unanimous agreement from the Great Lakes Compact to pump water from Lake Michigan to Waukesha and return the treated wastewater to the lake by way of the Root River.
Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper a habitat preservation and advocacy nonprofit, made a statement to the Detroit Free Press, “The City of Waukesha’s application does not meet the high bar the compact sets for Great Lakes diversions. For that reason, we continue to believe that the city of Waukesha’s application is not in the best interest of the Great Lakes region and the protection of one of our most vital natural resources.”
“There have, however, been significant concerns raised with how the diversion return flow might negatively impact the Root River,” said Molly Flanagan, Vice President, of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Flanagan also said that Waukesha is one of the first big tests of the Great Lakes Compact, and this decision would most likely set precedent for future diversion requests. She noted that this decision was critical for the Compact Council to get it right.
“One straw in the Great Lakes certainly won’t drain them away. But if we keep adding straws from nearby communities, you could start to see more localized impacts to the Lakes and tributaries. That’s why the Alliance for the Great Lakes is working to make sure that the Compact Council ensures that Waukesha’s diversion requests meets the letter and spirit of the Compact,” Flanagan said.
Elizabeth Hittman, spokesperson for Mayor Tom Barrett said, “Mayor Barrett is a strong supporter of the principles outlined in the Great Lakes Compact. Mayor Barrett’s view is that the application submitted by Waukesha does not comply with the Great Lakes Compact due to the expanded service area.”
The Compact Council is meeting on June 21st to consider Waukesha’s request.