matter of power, not water
By Ray Barrington
Green Bay News-Chronicle
It was about a year ago that I first covered a meeting of
the Central Brown County Water Authority. I now know how
the man feels in the song "House of The Rising Sun:"
"It's been the ruin of many a poor boy.
"And God, I know, I'm one."
All right, so it's not that bad. But in one year, I've
collected enough paper in the form of agendas, diagrams,
spreadsheets, letters and notes to build my own pipeline
to Lake Michigan, or at least a giant straw.
Over here are thirsty people needing water. Over there
is a big lake. All you have to do is connect the two.
Sounds easy, right?
Wrong. For the battle is not over water, but power -
and I don't mean electricity.
Start with the basic fight - Green Bay trying to make
money selling water to the suburbs; the suburbs wanting
water as cheaply as possible. It's in Green Bay's interest
to get the suburbs as a partner on a new pipeline, sharing
the cost in some undetermined fashion. And don't let the
technical talk scare you; it's water, it flows through
a pipe, and if it can get to Green Bay, it can get to
De Pere and Bellevue and Ledgeview.
But it's not in Green Bay's interest to sell the suburbs
cheap water. That would allow them to lure industry, and
build their tax bases at Green Bay's expense. So Green
Bay's Water Commission came up with enough pipe-plugging
cork to handle Sammy Sosa's bats for a lifetime.
And what the suburbs want is not to have rates skyrocket.
They'll go up no matter what, but having to pay for a
new pipeline would really goose them.
A cheap water deal would help.
So Green Bay wants to sell high, and the suburbs want
to buy low.
Add to that Ashwaubenon's concerns that it's being taken
for a ride.
Ashwaubenon uses 33 percent of the suburban water. But
it only has one vote in the CBCWA. So if the other members
decide on an expensive pipeline, Ashwaubenon would have
no recourse. So it's trying to play both ends against
the middle - make a deal on its own with Green Bay, or
force the CBCWA into doing the same.
(You may have noticed little mention of Manitowoc. That's
still something of a mystery; there have been no cost
estimates, and the lower production costs - no huge filtration
plant - could be eaten up by the cost of buying water.
We just don't know yet.)
What nobody wants to happen, of course, is for both Green
Bay and the suburbs to build new pipelines. That way lies
financial fiasco, and as somebody said, "if we have
two pipelines to the lake in 10 years, every politician
involved ought to go to jail." (I'd just settle for
having them build the pipelines themselves. By hand.)
The true solution, of course, is exceedingly simple.
A metro water district, based along the same lines as
the Metropolitan Sewerage District.
However, Green Bay is still sitting on pride and past
spending. We went to the lake first, and the suburbs could
have gone with us back in 1955, Green Bay says, ignoring
the fact that "the suburbs" in those days (except
for De Pere) were mostly covered by cow flop. There was
no reason to go; water from the wells was cheaper, populations
weren't high and the wells were safe and inexhaustible,
So we find ourselves still battling, not for just the
one year that I've been covering the issue, but for many
And I have no hope whatsoever that we won't hear more
arguments for the coming year.
For when it comes to the water talks, the proverbial
glass is always half-empty.