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Great Lakes Article:

Tapping into lake may cost $52 million

Planners outline water options for New Berlin, urge action soon

Article courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Aug. 22 2001

New Berlin - As demand for water begins to outpace supply in this growing suburban community of 38,000, the city's Utility Committee on Tuesday got its first glimpse at a study that outlines ways to keep the faucets running, plans that could include spending more than $52 million to tap into Lake Michigan.

"We don't want to sound alarmist. You're not going to run out of water tomorrow," said Steven H. Schultz, who leads the water supply department at the Waukesha consulting firm Ruekert & Mielke Inc.

However, Schultz warned that the city needs to immediately start working on ways to supply more water to the city - whether by drilling more municipal wells to draw more groundwater or entering negotiations to buy Lake Michigan water.

According to Ruekert & Mielke's projections, the gap between supply and demand for water is expected to grow to 3 million gallons per day by 2020.

Schultz said the city got a preview of potential future water problems this summer, when a lawn sprinkling ban was put in place in mid-July as the city's water utility came close to approaching its peak pumping capacity of 6.79 million gallons of water per day. The city now has returned to its normal summer lawn sprinkling schedule.

With the city's largest well out of service and others experiencing mechanical and electrical problems earlier this summer, the city was using water from its water storage facilities and not replenishing it at the rate it was being used, Schultz said.

"You had a little cushion, but not much," Schultz said. "We've got to do something to get the capacities back up. That gap is only going to get bigger."

The water study, ordered by the Common Council last year, outlines three major options the city could pursue to increase its water supply.

Those options include:

  • Continuing to use solely groundwater to serve the city's current water utility customers, which over 50 years would cost about $42.65 million.
  • Combining groundwater and water from Lake Michigan at a cost of $47.82 million.
  • Moving to a Lake Michigan water system for the area of the city east of the subcontinental divide, at a cost of $52.27 million.

International agreements generally prohibit the diversion of water over the subcontinental divide because it would take the water from the Great Lakes basin into another drainage basin.

Schultz said the city could seek Lake Michigan water for certain areas west of the divide. Those areas lie in either the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District service area for 2010, or in areas that have been identified as "ultimate" sewer service areas under MMSD's plans.

Those areas of the city, which are located generally west of Calhoun Road, would discharge waste water into the Lake Michigan basin once they are included in the MMSD sewer service area. Therefore, Schultz said, it may be possible under those circumstances to work out a deal to divert lake water west of the divide because that water would ultimately be returned to the Great Lakes basin.

Usage tops 3.25 million gallons

In 2000, 3.25 million gallons of water were pumped per day from the city's current water system, which includes nine municipal wells, three elevated storage tanks, six ground-level storage reservoirs and about 150 miles of water mains.

However, long-term projections show that New Berlin will need about 4.5 million gallons of water per day on average and 10.6 million gallons per day in peak periods to provide an adequate supply to the city's growing population, the study says.

From a water-quality standpoint, lake water is more desirable than remaining on groundwater, the report says, citing high levels of radionuclides, a contaminant, and other problems associated with continuing to drill groundwater from the already overtaxed deep sandstone aquifer.

However, Ruekert & Mielke also says that long-term use of groundwater is viable, as well, if the city can find ways to balance its use of shallow and deeper sandstone aquifers.

In any situation in which New Berlin would seek Lake Michigan water, the city would likely have to enter negotiations with the City of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Carrie Lewis says Milwaukee is currently evaluating requests from New Berlin, Germantown, Brookfield and Elm Grove for wholesale water. The Water Works already sells Lake Michigan water to all or part of 13 suburbs that previously relied on well water.

The Milwaukee Common Council has final approval on all water sales from the Water Works. New Berlin Mayor Ted Wysocki said Tuesday that he expects the city's Utility Committee to act as soon as possible on a recommendation to the Common Council on whether or not to pursue negotiations with Milwaukee.

"It takes so long," Wysocki said of obtaining lake water. He added that pursuing talks does not lock New Berlin into any deals.

Utility Committee Chairman Paul Gallagher said members will discuss the options at the next committee meeting in two weeks.

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