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
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
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
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.