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Great Lakes Reps Alter Waukesha Water Application; Final Vote Set for June 13

S Bence
The Regional Body asked the City of Waukesha to provide a map clearly showing the service area being considered in its application when delegates meet Friday morning.

Two days of crucial discussions that could affect Waukesha and its drinking water ended Friday afternoon in Chicago. Representatives of the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces scaled-back part of the city's plan to divert water from Lake Michigan. The changes are recommendations but could influence the final outcome in June. 

Members of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body, an advisory body which includes the two Canadian Provinces of Quebec and Ontario, weighed in at the Chicago meeting, and some representatives raised concerns about the extent of Waukesha's plan to begin using water from Lake Michigan.

Quebec delegate Marcel Gaucher challenged Waukesha's plan to fold additional communities into its request for water. "As we’ve made an analysis of the project it became clear to us that the water service area is not a community as defined in the agreement. In our view the City of Waukesha needs to demonstrate it needs the water. Beyond the limits of the City, the other communities [should have to do the same]," Gaucher said.

Ontario delegate Jason Travers says citizens there have expressed reservations. "There was some concern about how quickly this is going and the precedent nature it could set. I think from our technical review we added some elements that dive deeper into the specifics of the agreement around the service area that we’ve obviously spent a lot of time talking about today," Travers said.

On Thursday evening, the Regional Body gathered behind closed doors and agreed to scale back the scope of Waukesha proposed water service, eliminating Delafield and Genesee and therefore the amount of water the utility would need each day from the lake.

The Regional Body will convene by phone  on May 2, then meet face to face in Chicago May 10 and 11 at which time the Body will issue its final recommendations. Afterward, the Compact Council - the group that will  make the final decision on Waukesha's application - will vote on June 13.

Reported Thursday Morning on WUWM:

Thursday report from WUWM's Susan Bence.

The next big step in the City of Waukesha’s proposed plan to draw water from Lake Michigan will unfold Thursday in Chicago at a meeting of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body, or Regional Body for short.

It’s made up of representatives that the Great Lakes governors and Canadian premiers have selected.

This meeting is simply advisory, but might indicate which way the group is leaning.

We all know by now that Waukesha must come up with a solution to replace its radium-tainted drinking water. The City needs a safe and sustainable water source, in fact it’s under federal court order to do so.

Waukesha worked through the lengthy application-writing process – to request water from the Great Lakes, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has OK’d the plan.

The agency’s approval pushed the application on to be scrutinized by the rest of the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces.

Waukesha’s application falls under the Great Lakes Compact. One of its tenets is that the jurisdictions surrounding the Great Lakes must jointly protect them, and only in rare circumstances can a community request Great Lakes water.

The community or the county it’s in must straddle the Basin. That is Waukesha’s case – the city lies outside the Great Lakes divide, but Waukesha County straddles it.

This is the first test of the resilience of the Great Lakes Compact, and when it might allow water diversion outside the basin.

A representative of the Regional Body says the hope is the Body will ultimately speak as one - for or against the request - but no one is sure what will happen.

The body has set aside two days,Thursday and Friday, hoping its members can reach consensus.

The final decision on Waukesha’s application for Lake Michigan water will be made by the Compact Council.

It is comprised of the Great Lakes states because under the Compact, only they have an official vote on whether to OK Waukesha’s application.

The Compact Council will gather and take a final vote in about a month – again in Chicago.

But the opinion of our Canadian neighbors of Quebec and Ontario is important and will be conveyed today and tomorrow.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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