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United front on radium sought
New regional task force urged, but Waukesha mayor calls idea useless
By Darryl Enriquez
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Waukesha - Facing a cost as high as $88 million to reduce radium in city water and find a new water source, the city needs to seek federal and state funding for all Wisconsin communities with similar problems, state Rep. Ann Nischke said Monday.

The Waukesha Republican said the issue should be pursued by a new task force and presented as affecting a large area of the state, not just Waukesha.

"We need to think more regionally," Nischke said. "It needs a strategic formula to show its impact on the governing groups and make it a full statewide issue."

Waukesha Mayor Carol Lombardi, however, said Nischke's task force proposal would be useless.

"I don't feel there's any advantage to having a unified front when the majority of communities with radium problems aren't having the expense as we are to come into compliance," Lombardi said.

"I think there's more than sufficient groups - especially in the business community - and certainly the legislators are aware of it. I can't see any benefits in trying to come together," Lombardi said.

Waukesha is one of nearly 600 communities nationwide under federal orders to reduce the concentration of radium in municipal water supplies that originate from deep wells containing naturally occurring radioactive substances. The Environment Protection Agency has linked ingestion of too much radium to cancer.

Wisconsin water utilities must submit plans to abate radium to the state Department of Natural Resources by early December and then will have three years to get the plans approved and implemented.

Lombardi said the time to unify was when Waukesha fought in a federal appeals court to have the Environment Protection Agency relax its standards on radium concentrations. The city picked up the full cost of that legal action and in total has spent $1.5 million trying to have the federal government back down.

"We don't have time for another task force," Lombardi said. "We already know what we need."

To reduce the radium concentration, the city is considering drilling new wells into the radium-free shallow aquifer in southern Waukesha. Water from the new source would be blended with radium-ladened water from existing wells to bring down the overall concentration.

City officials believe that because the deep aquifer is degenerating, it will be necessary to find a new source, possibly from Lake Michigan or from a new well field in western Waukesha County, within five to 10 years.

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