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Great Lakes Article:

New Berlin tackles water supply questions

Pursue negotiations with Milwaukee, panel says


Article courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

September 26, 2001

New Berlin - Faced with projected gaps between supply and demand for water in this growing suburban community, the city's Utility Committee has recommended pursuing negotiations with Milwaukee for the potential purchase of Lake Michigan water.

The committee's chairman, Ald. Paul Gallagher, noted that obtaining lake water could take years and said New Berlin must begin negotiations immediately if it wants to keep all its options open.

"We need to do something with our water," Gallagher said. "We don't have enough capacity right now, and we need to know if we need to look at building more wells or look at Milwaukee water."

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

The New Berlin Common Council was debating the Utility Committee recommendation late Tuesday, and it had not voted by the Journal Sentinel deadline.

The City of Milwaukee isn't the only hurdle New Berlin officials might have to clear to get Lake Michigan water. Last week, Utility Committee members voted unanimously to authorize city staff to develop a proposal to the Council of Great Lakes Governors. That agency reviews and approves diversions of Great Lakes water within the United States.

New Berlin's studies have not yet determined which parts of the city would be served by lake water and how much water would be drawn. But if the city decided to pursue obtaining lake water, it would need permission from the eight governors of the council if it wanted to divert more than 5 million gallons a day from the Great Lakes region.

And under Annex 2001, a amendment in the works to the Great Lakes Charter of 1985, withdrawal of more than 1 million gallons a day would trigger an automatic review.

Gallagher said approving negotiations with Milwaukee for lake water is necessary as the city considers three major options to increase its water supply.

Those options include using solely groundwater to serve current water utility customers, which over 50 years would cost about $42.6 million; combining groundwater and lake water at a cost of $47.8 million; or moving to a Lake Michigan water system for the area of the city east of the subcontinental divide at a cost of about $52.3 million.

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

Gallagher said it looks to him as though staying on municipal wells might be the most economical option because the construction work necessary to switch to lake water could prove to be too expensive.

"And it's a control issue. We don't want to be controlled by anyone else," Gallagher said. "If we're sure our wells can support it, we'll stay on wells."

Ald. David Ament said that despite the Utility Committee's unanimous vote to pursue negotiations for lake water, the city has made "absolutely no commitments."

"I don't like the word negotiations, because it implies that we've decided to have Milwaukee water and we're just looking for our best deal," he said. "That's not what we're trying to do. . . . We're just making the initial contacts to let them know we're interested and that we'd like to look at what's available."

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