Wastewater could help solve water woes,
By James Kogutkiewicz
Published April 29, 2005
BROOKFIELD - Waukesha should consider drinking its own
wastewater instead of trying to hook up to Lake Michigan.
Thatís not meant as a slight but is the opinion offered
Wednesday by an expert on southeastern Wisconsin water,
Doug Cherkauer, a hydrology professor at the University
Cherkauer understood that some of the audience at the
Public Policy Forum on "solving the water puzzle"
would turn green at the very thought of his plan. But
he explained to a room full of water experts that his
idea would tap into the wastewater stream by using the
Fox River as a kind of "moving reservoir."
He said the Waukesha area is now "pumping 9 million
gallons (daily) out of the deep aquifer," which is
the lowest accessible underground storage area for fresh
water. "That runs through the system and goes to
the sewage treatment plant, which is down river"
from the city.
Cherkauer said, "Iím saying, take half of that flow
and pipe it back somewhere up the river, north of Waukesha
- removed from the Fox River but within the watershed.
Then build big infiltration fields for it - with big,
perforated pipes put underground - and let (the wastewater)
soak in, after itís been treated. Then the soaking infiltration
process provides still more treatment.
"Then that (wastewater) would flow back to the Fox
River and it literally increases that Fox River flow by
that same 4.5 million gallons a day," he said.
Cherkauer added, "If the stuff is treated correctly,
then the river is still viable, itís still a recreational
site, and youíre just inducing it to flow from the river
into shallow wells that are placed along the river. Those
wells could be hooked up to the same water mains that
the current deep wells are hooked up to.
"The difference between a groundwater source and
a river source is that you absolutely have to treat a
water source when it comes out of the river, unlike well
water," he said.
Cherkauer said the concept is not so outside the mainstream
as it might sound. The Illinois communities of Elgin and
Aurora are already drinking that water - the wastewater
that Waukesha sends south down the Fox River past their
The hydrologist said the water quality problem Waukesha
is facing provides the motivation for trying this plan.
"Waukesha is kind of at a fork in the road right
now because itís going to have to treat (water) for radium,"
Cherkauer said. "And that (radium treatment) is going
to cost a lot. Iím suggesting that the money would be
better spent if they built a system to treat water from
wells along the river. It wouldnít have radium in it so
they could treat for other things, like pathogens."
He said that would eliminate many of the problems involved
in using Lake Michigan water, including getting permission
from all the Great Lakes states, hooking up, and pumping
the treated wastewater back to Milwaukee.
Cherkauer said the idea that the wastewater could merely
be dumped into the Fox River after having been taken west
of the subcontinental divide and outside the Lake Michigan
basin would not be acceptable to the Council of Great
Lakes Governors, which must approve any such diversion.
He said the expensive returning of the water to the basin
would almost certainly be required.