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Great Lakes Article:

Water problems reaching flood stage at all government levels
By Amy Rinard
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In this dry summer, the lack of rain has turned considerable attention to the subject of water. Some state legislators feel it's about time we take that natural resource seriously.

In Wisconsin, blessed with proximity to Lake Michigan and in most years adequate rainfall to nurture trees, cornfields and suburban lawns, we mostly take water for granted.

But, not this year.

Gov. Jim Doyle has declared a statewide drought emergency.

Some areas of Wisconsin are more than five inches behind in annual rainfall totals and heat has recently worsened the situation.

Crops are wilting and officials in Waukesha, Racine and Milwaukee have urged residents to give the dry city street trees a drink of water.

In the midst of all this, Waukesha has proposed laying a pipeline and pumping water out of Lake Michigan to bring drinking water to the city. It's a plan that would solve the city's current drinking water problem.

The Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that Waukesha's municipal water has concentrations of radium above safe levels and has ordered the city to do something about it.

Earlier this summer, New Berlin won approval from the Milwaukee Common Council to buy water from the city. Several other area communities already are Milwaukee water utility customers.

All this talk of water makes sense to Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), who said it's time Wisconsin got serious about protecting and preserving a key natural resource.

"We lose sight of the fact that there are limits on any resource and water is too important a resource to lose," he said in an interview.

Kedzie, whose district includes almost half of Waukesha County, about half of Jefferson County and nearly all of Walworth County, is chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

He said he has thought for a long time that Wisconsin needs to take a new look at its water policies and Pure Drinking Water law, which has not been significantly revised in 20 years.

Kedzie is working on two water-related bills.

One would require licensing, not only for well-drillers, but for all contractors who are drilling holes into Wisconsin aquifers.

The other bill, whose provisions are still being pulled together, is far broader.

It would address the water needs of Wisconsin residents, businesses and farmers, taking a hard look at all the domestic, industrial, agricultural and recreational uses of water in the state.

"We've always had challenges with development in southeastern Wisconsin, especially in Waukesha County, but now it's pushing west and putting more of a strain on our aquifer," Kedzie said.

"We're seeing all this growth and it's phenomenal, but if you can't have good abundant water that will put the brakes on future development."

His bill would establish a statewide review and permit process for all new draws on groundwater.

Depletion of the state's groundwater is a concern, Kedzie said, as more developments - both industrial and residential - are built and more wells are created.

In dry summers, like this one, farmers who own or can rent the equipment irrigate their crops more, usually using groundwater. Doyle's emergency drought declaration will speed up requests by farmers for permits that allow them to divert streams and lakes to irrigate crops.

Kedzie said that as the water table is depleted, there is a concern about increased arsenic levels in water in some parts of the state.

"Water is an issue all over the state," he said.

"We do know that there have been changes in the aquifer."

Kedzie's district includes part of the City of Waukesha, but unlike Rep. Ann Nischke (R-Waukesha), he has not leaped to endorse the city's plan to pump water from Lake Michigan.

He said he has serious concerns about the plan and would rather work with the EPA to get a review of the agency's radium standards as they have been applied to the city than advocate that Waukesha be allowed to draw water from one of the Great Lakes.

He said state officials need to lean on the EPA to make sure the radium standards applied to Waukesha are "based on sound science and not emotion."

"We need to be careful that the federal government doesn't get carried away in setting unrealistic standards," he said.

Providing access to Lake Michigan water for communities like Waukesha could make the Great Lakes look like an easy solution for other communities with water problems, Kedzie said.

"I have always had a concern about transporting water from the Great Lakes to serve a particular region," he said of the city's proposal.

"This could set a negative precedent if it's allowed."

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