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