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Great Lakes Article:

True regional water authority required
Green Bay News Chronicle
03/02/04

One of the most-repeated comments during the endless regional water talks was, "We don't want to see two pipelines going to the lake." Well, unless some of our leaders come to their senses, that's exactly what's going to happen, and everyone involved should be ashamed.

The best way to handle the area's water problem is through a true regional authority - perhaps a reconstituted Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District or a similar body not beholden to any local government. That's what we were hoping would come out of the talks. It didn't.

Water isn't political nor should it be. It is basic to life, and that means its supply is one of the most important things a government can provide.

Green Bay made the right move in the 1950s by building a pipeline to Lake Michigan at a time when many said there was no need for such an expensive, outlandish project with so much water right under our feet, just waiting to be tapped.

And when Green Bay did build its pipeline, all that groundwater was freed up for De Pere and the towns around Green Bay that eventually grew into villages.

But it turned out that water wasn't endless nor necessarily safe. A few years ago, the federal government said a lot of it is contaminated, and communities had to find another source.

You know the story since - off-and-on talks with Green Bay, which alternately seemed to welcome a deal and then stalled to avoid one. As it turned out, the suburbs split over the issue - Ashwaubenon and Scott piggybacking on a new Green Bay pipe; six others deciding last week to buy from Manitowoc, which, facing a fading economy, is understandably looking to sell this ready resource and make substantial bucks.

It needn't be that way; we don't have to give our dollars and control of our water's delivery to a city 40 miles away when we could - and should - be our own supplier.

Whether they want it that way or not, Green Bay and the suburbs are intertwined. Ashwaubenon is now Green Bay's downtown, and Green Bay is the school provider for Allouez. More to the point, the suburbs that weren't ready for Lake Michigan water in 1955 are now.

What is needed is a basic change in thinking. It is time to put parochialism and politics aside and work on the true "regional solution" that was given so much lip service but little else during the talks.

Green Bay should take the first step, and that is to step aside. It should agree to participate in a metro water system which operates independently from the city government.

Yes, there'll be howls from those who say the city should not be forced to give up what it has paid for since the 1950s. Well, the city has reaped the benefits of that investment and continues to do so. It has been able to serve an ever-growing population and hold onto water-dependent industries and high-paying jobs.

The city literally could have dried up were it not for its ingenious pipe to the lake. Some will call this sharing of resources a subsidy to the suburbs. But no one says oour existing MSD is a subsidy. In fact, few think about the MSD at all, which is the way a utility should be run.

In short, Green Bay must recognize the realities of today's urban complexities, where boundary lines are ignored and people live in one community, shop in a second, bank in a third, get mail from a fourth and are employed in a fifth.

And the suburbs must realize that they have been blessed for the past half-century with ground water at low costs. That ride is over and they, too, will have to pay their fair share.

There should be three goals, all of which could be obtained quickly because so much preparatory work has been already been done:

1. Every community should have an equal say in how water is administered, a la an MSD.

2. There should be equal rates for all consumer classes so that residential, commercial and industrial users are given to orderly, rational growth rather than the lure of cheaper water in a nearby community.

3. Our water supply should be built on the backbone of the Green Bay infrastructure.

It is time for another investment similar to the brave one made 50 years ago, a decision that was also buffeted by controversy and passionate convictions.

Once again we ask, "Who will be the courageous person to make the first substantive move?"

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