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Great Lakes Article:

A matter of power, not water
By Ray Barrington
Green Bay News-Chronicle
12/05/03


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, right?

Well, wrong.

So we find ourselves still battling, not for just the one year that I've been covering the issue, but for many years before.

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.

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