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Leaders gather to head off efforts to tap their water
Some say Waukesha needs to manage its wells better
By Darryl Enriquez
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted October 5, 2005

City of Pewaukee - Worried about Waukesha's need for water, officials from water-rich communities in western Waukesha County questioned Wednesday if the city was really doing enough to sustain its own wells.

Speaking out publicly for the first time at a meeting of water experts, western delegates questioned if state and county agencies were watching over new wells likely headed for their communities.

Facing a dwindling supply of healthy municipal water for drinking, fire protection and development, Waukesha is looking to Lake Michigan as a future primary source. If that cannot be accomplished, the underground aquifers in western sections of the county are the next target.

Experts from southeastern Wisconsin and Madison gathered Wednesday at a hotel in the City of Pewaukee to discuss the conflicts that thirsty communities such as Waukesha could create in their quest for new sources of pure water. Waukesha's municipal water contains natural radium that exceeds federal safety standards.

The conference's underlying theme was to create solutions that would head off the likelihood of lengthy and expensive litigation - a potential water war reminiscent of the so-called sewer wars.

Colin Butler of the Ottawa Town Plan Commission said during a break in the forum that it's likely Waukesha would get a hostile reception if it chooses to pursue water from the western communities. The reaction would be based largely on fears over the impact that could have on the increasing number of private residential wells, he said.

"It's not that we're selfish and don't want to share the water. There's just too many unanswered questions," Butler said.

During a question and answer period, Butler asked if a regional approach to water use was under consideration. He spoke in the context of the smaller western communities becoming lost as thirsty large communities claim more and more water.

John Davis, a Town of Eagle resident, asked how their aquifers would be replenished if water were piped miles to the east, used, and then sent down the Fox River instead of returning naturally to recharge the aquifers.

Bob Biebel, of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, reminded delegates that an area-wide study of water use is being done.

Conservation ideas
Meanwhile, Dan Duchniak, manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, defended his city, saying it is considering instituting strict water conservation methods that include both lawn sprinkling bans and a new water-rate structure in which water use charges increase as more water is used.

Currently, water charges decrease as more is used.

However, Waukesha's desire to cure its water woes by either tapping Lake Michigan or drilling new wells in western Waukesha County is an archaic and politically risky resolution that can otherwise be fixed with better city management of the resource, a prominent educator told the forum.

"If Waukesha were to obtain Great Lakes water, it isn't really solving the lack of (water) management in the Waukesha area, it's simply transferring that deficit to the Great Lakes," said Doug Cherkauer, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Department of Geosciences.

"Usually, we fail to recognize the environmental and even human repercussions of these (large transfers of water)," he said. "The mind-set often is that humans are more important than environmental systems. I call this a 19th century approach to a problem. It isn't really solving a problem. It's just transferring it."

"If Waukesha were to take water from . . . western Waukesha County, they're not solving the mismanagement . . . and ultimately preventing those areas from using the water that is in their aquifers," Cherkauer said.

Communities must produce "balanced water budgets" in which they do not use more water than can be returned to the source, Cherkauer said. Reducing water consumption and increasing inflows, such as storm water and treated sewage, back into the system are practices that would conserve water, he said.

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