Citizens’ view: City cares more about growth than clean water

by Sandy Hamm, Steve Edlund and Steven Schmuki, originally posted on March 12, 2016


We’d like to provide a personal perspective to people living in the cities, towns and villages on and near the Great Lakes who have read about Waukesha’s bid for Great Lakes water and who have wondered about the seriousness of the problem and viability of potential solutions.

As Great Lakes governors and Canadian premiers consider the southeastern Wisconsin’s plan to divert Great Lakes water over the subcontinental divide, there are critical facts you may not be hearing from official sources. We’d like to share some of those here and ask you to urge the Regional Body and your state governor to say no to this diversion.

The three of us are longtime residents of the city and town of Waukesha; our family roots run deep. We’re informed observers of the diversion plan since the Great Lakes Compact first was being debated.

More than 45 communities in Wisconsin alone have the same radium problem as Waukesha and are successfully treating their water supply to provide clean, healthy drinking water to their residents — all without any Great Lakes diversions.

For 19 months between late 2011 and mid-2013, the city provided radium-compliant water to its customers. Full, year-round compliance can be accomplished with the installation of HMO radium filters on three deep aquifer wells for a fraction of the cost of the proposed diversion.

The city of Waukesha boasts a “model” conservation plan, but many of its proposed conservation measures have not been implemented; we see little reason to believe they ever will be.

Currently, Waukesha uses 6.6 million gallons of water a day but wants up to 16.7 million per day. We suspect the city is more interested in growth and expansion than addressing its obligation to provide current residents with clean water.

The city has claimed the groundwater table is dropping as much as 5-7 feet per year, but based on USGS monitoring data and Water Utility well reports, the deep aquifer stopped declining around the year 2000 and since has risen to levels not seen since the 1980s.

Waukesha’s application includes an expanded service area that doubles in size its existing water service area. These expansion areas do not currently need, and have stated they do not foresee a need for, city water.

For decades Waukesha embraced the annexation of hundreds of acres outside its borders, approved subdivisions large and small, courted commercial sprawl and handed out permits for apartment buildings within its borders, knowing full well it did not have the resources or infrastructure to support the growth — and while claiming a crisis of contaminated water and plummeting groundwater levels. If the crisis was as real as some say, wouldn’t it be responsible to halt expansion until it’s resolved?

But no. The city’s land-use plan shows expansion to the south, west and north with big-box retail, commercial and industrial development along both sides of a 5-mile stretch of state highway. Subdivisions march further outward.

Those of us who have followed and studied this issue for years have done so because we are concerned about our water resources, and we certainly care that all residents of our state have access to clean, safe drinking water. We believe the alternate solutions for Waukesha are many and come at a significantly lower cost — for ratepayers and for the protection of our most precious freshwater resource.

Based on the way it has managed resources, its continuing expansions and its cursory interpretation of the Great Lakes Compact, Waukesha has not made its case for diversion and cannot be trusted to determine this important precedent for the Great Lakes.

Sandy Hamm’s family owned the Waukesha Freeman newspaper for more than 100 years; his Great Uncle Art Kuranz and second cousin Joseph Kuranz each managed the Waukesha Water Utility. Steve Edlund is a Waukesha School Board member and an advocate for government efficiency. And Steven Schmuki is an attorney and president of the Waukesha County Environmental Action League, a 38-year old grass-roots organization dedicated to protecting the county’s natural resources.


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