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