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Great Lakes Article:

Protect lake, Barrett urges
Water diversion, suburban sprawl, concern mayor
By Darryl Enriquez
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted February 22, 2007

Waukesha and New Berlin must not use Lake Michigan water to fuel continued suburban sprawl, Mayor Tom Barrett told a panel of top environmentalists Thursday.

The two communities are under the spotlight for their strong interests in replacing aging municipal wells with drinking water from the lake.

Barrett stressed that tapping Lake Michigan is a costly proposition that raises a multitude of environmental concerns. He asked where the water would eventually go amid the suburban growth of those cities.

Barrett addressed about two dozen leaders of environmental organizations from the eight Great Lakes states. They held a workshop in Milwaukee on a compact to prevent Great Lakes water from being shipped to thirsty and far-flung areas of the United States.

Missing from request

A "huge concern" with New Berlin's request is that it did not clearly define a service area, Barrett said.

"Would we be serving existing developed areas that have radium in their drinking water or promoting additional sprawl?" Barrett asked.

As for Waukesha, Barrett mentioned the city's "aggressive annexation policy" to expand its borders and its promise "to continue those policies."

Barrett said that before either proposal is considered further by the state, the Legislature must pass laws on water sales.

Barrett supports passage of the compact and said, "How we respond to these communities will set a precedent that will guide future decisions in the Great Lakes region."

7 states still working

In 2005, governors of the eight states agreed to a new Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact that will be created through their legislatures. Only Minnesota has passed new water laws. Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania continue to work on their legislation.

A task of the compact is to establish a process through which communities that are near or straddle the basin can apply to their states for Great Lakes water. Those communities would be required to return as much water as they take out of a Great Lake.

Waukesha is outside the basin but lies within a county that straddles the basin. About half of New Berlin is in the basin and already buys Milwaukee water. The western portion straddles the basin.

Wisconsin has run into some early political trouble crafting its compact. Waukesha is exploring the option of returning water to a tributary, instead of directly to the lake. One compact proposal calls for water to be returned directly to its point of origin.

But Barrett and Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson have been having positive conversations.

Nelson said he supports the compact and believes bringing Lake Michigan water to the city is environmentally the best solution to the city's water troubles.

Ann Beier, of Barrett's staff, told the group that Waukesha should be commended for its water conservation efforts.

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