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Great Lakes Article:

SEWRPC dives into region’s
water supply challenges
Two-year review will look at various streams for help
By Denna A. Shook
Published January 31st, 2005

WAUKESHA - Water problems have been an underlying current that has made many waves in Waukesha County, whether it be providing a water supply in New Berlin or helping solve the radium content challenge in Waukesha.

While the county awaits solutions from larger decision-making groups, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission announced this week it has decided to spend nearly $1 million on a two-year regional water supply study. The study will consider what options exist for the county and the region in the face of dropping water tables and deep-well water sources that have become contaminated by such substances as radium.

SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson said the regional water supply study was being planned anyway but acknowledged the timing could prove important to the future of the county and the seven-county SEWRPC region.

"This has been on our radar screen for a good number of years, with a request from Racine, Waukesha, and Kenosha boards to look at this," Evenson said. "We spent the last year getting the funding to get it done and we are ready to begin. It does come at a time when there is heightened interest and problems are beginning to emerge."

Waukesha help

The study also comes at a time when the city of Waukesha is pushing for Gov. Jim Doyle’s help in its bid to get Great Lakes water before a new set of rules is adopted. Doyle has said he would certainly consider taking such an application to the governors of the eight Great Lakes states that would have to approve a diversion of Lake Michigan water for Waukesha use.

Doyle has said he has doubts about what can be done in the short term. But he believes the Council of Great Lakes Governors will approve new rules for Lake Michigan water use, known as Annex 2001, within a decade.

Evenson said the two-year SEWRPC study will involve more than just accessing Lake Michigan water. The regional water supply plan is intended to include several key elements:

- Development of water supply service areas and of forecast demand for water use.

- Development of recommendations for water conservation efforts to reduce water demand.

- Evaluation of alternative sources of supply, culminating in identification of recommended sources of supply for each service area and in recommendations for development of the basic infrastructure required to deliver that supply.

- Identification of groundwater recharge areas to be protected from incompatible development.

- Specification of any new institutional structures found necessary to carry out the plan recommendations.

- Identification of any constraints to development levels in areas of the region that may emanate from water supply sustainably concerns.

Study points

The study would then provide a set of recommendations for meeting regional water needs, Evenson said.

Bob Biebel, SEWRPC’s special projects engineer on the study, said the work will "consider the rule of Annex 2001. But we will also assume that current regulations govern and will only look at alternatives that meet the spirit of those rules."

Biebel added, "One of the focuses of the study will be looking at a range of water conservation alternatives, including the recharge of the underground water supply. With each of the alternatives, we will look at impacts on aquifer levels and what the impact will be on surface waters."

He added that Lake Michigan water will also be part of the study.

"There are ways to deal with and potentially use Lake Michigan water," he said. "The return flow (of waste water) is the big one. We will not focus on the Lake Michigan supply as the primary alternative but will also look at the use of shallow wells and treatment of deep-aquifer wells" as possible ways to provide a suitable water supply.

Biebel said the study will include forecasts of each community’s water needs, along with advice on water conservation and where future development might have to be limited to fit the supply of water.

SEWRPC has estimated the groundwater demand west of the subcontinental divide that runs through the county near the Sunnyslope Road area will lower the local aquifer level by 125 feet by the year 2020. That level has already declined 500 feet between 1900 and 2000.

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