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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Waukesha Pushes Forward On Lake Michigan Plan, While Great Lakes Mayors Push Back

Susan Bence
Milwaukee Public Radio
Waukesha will return its treated waste water via the Root River to Lake Michigan. This is one plan component that has raised concern.

Waukesha reports that it is in full steam ahead mode with plans to deliver Lake Michigan water to its residents. At the meantime, a consortium of U.S. and Canadian mayors, the Great Lakes St Lawrence Cities Initiative, are fighting to halt the project.

While the Compact Council already cast its unanimous support in favor of Waukesha last summer, the body will listen to both sides in the next month or so.

Credit Susan Bence
Racine mayor John Dickert and Cities Initiative head Dave Ullrich.

Racine Mayor John Dickert is one of the most adamant opponents of the Waukesha plan, even though early in his mayoral career Dickert considered selling water to Waukesha.

“I got to tell you I was pretty new at this job and one of the things we were facing at the time is we were selling less water than we had in the past. The more I learned about this, the more I learned these issues are bigger than me, are bigger than us,” he says.

Dickert says one of the bigger issues is how Waukesha’s return route could affect his world. The Root River winds through the heart of Racine and will carry Waukesha’s treated waste water and discharge it into Lake Michigan, just below what Dickert calls Racine’s most popular tourist attraction.

North Beach was once a polluted eyesore, today it’s rated as one of the best around.

“So now you’re going to impact my beach which brings in, just one event alone in the summer, our triathlon, brings in $3 to $5 million to my beach. And I have roughly on a good summer 200,000 people swimming on a beach in a city of 80,000,” he says.

The Compact agreement requires Waukesha to monitor its impact on the Root River system, yet Dickert remains dissatisfied.

“What I need to know is who’s paying for it and who’s doing it because I want an independent body or our people doing it because I want to know that the results are accurate.” he adds, “There is nothing in the Compact that even discussing it, as I understand. “

Dickert’s colleague Dave Ullrich heads the Cities Initiative. He says the return flow is just one of Great Lakes mayors’ issues with the Compact Council decision to OK Waukesha’s plan.

“We believe a mistake was by approving the diversion and that as the first formal action by the Compact Council, allowing that to stand, would be harmful to the Compact in the long term,” Ullrich says.

Credit Susan Bence
Dan Duchniak says Waukesha's treatment process will ensure that water discharged into the Root River will improve its quality.

Waukesha Water Utility general manager Dan Duchniak flatly disagrees.

“We are confident that they’ve done everything responsibly and the decision was made in an open, transparent forum, with all of the information available to everyone, and we are full speed ahead,” he says.

Duchniak says right now an engineering firm is coming up with the route Waukesha’s pipelines will follow.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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