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Great Lakes Article:

EDITORIAL: New Berlin deserves water
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published July 5, 2006

Since the town of New Berlin, Wis., returns its wastewater to Lake Michigan, its request for water has merit and should not be dismissed.

City of Milwaukee officials are upset that they were unaware of an application by New Berlin to obtain Lake Michigan water for the western portion of that city. And Milwaukee officials have good reason to be upset; they should have been made aware of the application, especially since it's from a city to which Milwaukee is already supplying water. As one official put it in an e-mail to us, "We can't talk if we're not at the table."

Nevertheless, New Berlin's request for water has merit and should not be dismissed out of hand. The bottom line on taking water out of the natural basin of the Great Lakes is that, generally speaking, it should not be allowed unless it is returned to the basin. New Berlin, already a client of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, returns its wastewater to the lake. As long as there are no other environmental issues at stake, New Berlin should get the water.

That city faces a Dec. 8 federal deadline to stop pumping radium-laced water from its wells on the western side of the city. A diversion to cover its current municipal system would help meet that deadline, providing safer water for its residents.

Furthermore, because of a general drawdown on the deep aquifer, other communities in the region are under the same deadline, most notably the city of Waukesha, which is also seeking a diversion of water from the lake. But in Waukesha's case, officials are seeking the diversion without returning the water.

Granting water to New Berlin, which would return the water, could ease the pressure that development is putting on the aquifer. The same would apply if most communities east of the divide went from wells to a Lake Michigan water supply. And easing that pressure could in turn reduce the pressure from communities west of the divide for Lake Michigan water.

But when state Department of Natural Resources officials - to whom New Berlin applied - checked with Great Lakes governors on New Berlin's request, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said she wouldn't even consider it. Which was shortsighted, given the fact that under a new set of rules being considered by those governors, New Berlin would qualify for a diversion.

At the same time, Milwaukee officials are arguing that the DNR is playing fast and loose with rules that state officials themselves proposed in terms of who would be notified and who would be involved when diversion requests were made. Milwaukee officials are asking legitimate questions of the DNR about its process.

Some officials are also asking why a diversion should be approved before the Great Lakes governors' agreement on the new set of rules is ratified by the eight legislatures and Congress. Fair enough, but the answer in New Berlin's case is that its request falls within the spirit of the new agreement and the city does face a very real deadline on the radium issue.

Regional cooperation is essential if southeastern Wisconsin is to grow and compete in the global market. Cooperation isn't a one-way street. The suburbs have to help Milwaukee thrive if they are to thrive. But Milwaukee has to be willing to help the suburbs. And it can do so on water issues.

It already has, having worked out agreements with several suburbs - including New Berlin, and Elm Grove just this spring - on selling water to areas east of the divide. But if the city fights a legitimate request in a case where water would cross the divide but still be returned to the basin, serious damage could still be done to the move toward greater regional cooperation.



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