Trying to keep the water flowing
Communities meet to discuss ways to stop the draining
By Darryl Enriquez
Milwaukee Jounral Sentinel
Published April 28, 2005
Brookfield - Many communities in the Milwaukee area are
running deficits - not in municipal budgets, but in their
use of a commodity that's considered far more precious
than money: Water.
Cedarburg, Grafton, West Bend, Thiensville and Waukesha
are depleting their sources of drinking water, an expert
told his peers Wednesday.
Like a checking account holder whose withdrawals far
exceed deposits, those communities and others that draw
on underground aquifers for drinking water are racking
up "deficit water balances."
If those communities do not eventually replenish their
flagging water resources, the taps could someday run dry,
said Doug Cherkauer, hydrology professor at the University
The area has enough groundwater to serve its needs, including
growth, he said. The problem is that treated wastewater
is not being recycled back into the aquifers that municipalities
are dependent on for drinking water. Instead, treated
water ends up in rivers or other bodies of water that
carry the diminishing resource away from the communities.
About 150 people listened to Cherkauer and other water
experts at a symposium on water resource management that
was held at the Embassy Suites Hotel Milwaukee-West. The
symposium entitled "Solving the Water Puzzle"
was hosted by the Public Policy Forum and the Waukesha
County Chamber of Commerce.
The Public Policy Forum is a non-partisan, Milwaukee-based
group that researches public policy issues to enhance
the effectiveness of government and development in southeast
Wisconsin. Participants included environmental lawyers,
engineers, government officials, educators, researchers
and real estate developers.
"We can't have a prosperous region if we don't pay
attention to our water," said Jeffrey Browne, Public
Policy Forum president.
How to attain that goal led to ample discussions about
policies, laws and traditions that are now getting in
the way of putting together workable solutions.
Waukesha in the spotlight
Waukesha, with its interest in purchasing Lake Michigan
water to replace its ailing water supply, has found itself
in the national spotlight.
Its pursuit is tied into international talks among the
states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes
about the wisdom of selling Great Lakes water to communities,
such as Waukesha, that lie outside the lakes' drainage
Bob Biebel of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning
Commission said during his presentation on area water
supply that Milwaukee has the capacity to sell 100,000
gallons a day to Waukesha and others but is prevented
by policy from Great Lakes water regulators. A study is
under way to possibly ease those restrictions.
Dan Duchniak, Waukesha Water Utility manager, distributed
a plan the city is developing to conserve water and improve
quality. The city wants to decrease water use by 20% by
2020, require that new developments do not affect the
natural water cycle and ensure that rainfall replenishes
groundwater aquifers used for drinking supplies.
Other panel discussions examined the need for more scientific
study on the availability and sustainability of water
in a state accustomed to considering it a boundless resource.
Call for research
Pat Marchese, a former government official and panel moderator
at the symposium, said scientific research is needed as
a base for public policy on water use.
Legal experts talked about existing obstructions that
prevent water conservation, such as Wisconsin water rates
that decrease in cost as water use is increased.
Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates
said a better incentive for water conservation would be
a rate structure that remains flat or increases with the
increased use of water. She also argued that few state
laws regulate the quantity of water use.
Peter McAvoy, a water policy consultant, closed the symposium
by saying that the state has a history of innovative and
creative management of its water resources.
"But we have to get on with it now," he said.
"This is a new time, and some of the things that
are being offered now will not serve us very well in the
short term or in the long term. We can set the precedent
in how we use our water, instead of other people telling