Planning group seeks water supply study
Official calls inquiry urgent as shortages
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Warning that future water shortages could lead to conflicts
among neighboring communities, a regional planning group
is urging development of a new strategy for sharing water
resources in Milwaukee and the suburbs.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
recommends a three-year, $1 million study that would re-examine
laws that restrict the use of Lake Michigan water in most
areas outside Milwaukee County.
Anticipating political obstacles to expanded use of the
lake, the commission also urges consideration of such
alternatives as conserving underground water supplies
and connecting localized water systems to share in emergencies.
Phil Evenson, executive director of SEWRPC, said he is
anxious to begin the study because water shortages are
looming as residential growth depletes the region's supply.
"There is an increasing urgency," he said. "Problems
are only going to get worse."
If the group's board directors approves the proposal
next month, seven southeastern Wisconsin counties would
be asked to contribute about $100,000 each toward the
cost of the study. The commission would provide the remaining
Evenson said he hopes to begin the project in 2003.
Known as a trouble-shooter on issues related to transportation
and the environment, the City of Pewaukee-based commission
serves Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine,
Kenosha and Walworth counties.
Water key to area
Racine County Executive Jean Jacobson said she regards
the water supply as a top priority for the region.
"Just about everything we do today has to do with water
quality," she said. "It doesn't matter where the municipal
lines and county lines are. This is a regional issue."
In an outline of the three-year study, the regional planning
commission proposes to develop an inventory of water supplies,
analyze consumption trends, project future needs and recommend
ways of reallocating supplies.
The commission reports that water management long has
been handled on a localized basis, but should be tackled
"In the absence of such a framework plan, increasing
conflicts may be expected to develop between the efforts
of individual communities," the SEWRPC proposal states.
On the issue of Lake Michigan water, the commission proposes
to analyze international laws that severely restrict using
lake water west of a subcontinental divide, which cuts
through the region and separates the lake watershed from
that of the Mississippi River.
Those laws have left communities such as Waukesha, Hartford,
Oconomowoc, Burlington and Elkhorn cut off from Lake Michigan
Commission officials question whether the U.S. government
and other authorities would soften on expanding the availability
of lake water.
"The existing legal structure may constitute a significant
constraint on the development of alternative plans," the
As another option, the commission urges consideration
of whether some municipalities already eligible to use
lake water could be persuaded to give up their local well
systems in the interest of conserving water in underground
aquifers. Those communities include Oak Creek, Germantown
and Whitefish Bay.
Water Works has capacity
Milwaukee Water Works Assistant Superintendent Dale Mejaki
said his system, which operates far below capacity, could
easily supply lake water to those municipalities and others
beyond the subcontinental divide.
But although broadening the use of the Water Works "makes
perfect sense to me," Mejaki said, the issue often stirs
opposition among some Milwaukee city leaders who are unwilling
to do business with suburban communities seen as competitors.
"They struggle with that all the time," he said.
Some communities in Waukesha County have gingerly negotiated
arrangements with Milwaukee to tap into Lake Michigan.
Waukesha County Parks & Land Use Director Dale Shaver
said he hopes the regional planning commission's efforts
will reopen the possibility of making Lake Michigan more
easily available to a larger region.
Waukesha County, along with Racine and Kenosha counties,
had asked the planning commission to consider such a study.
Shaver said he is certain his county will embrace the
commission's $1 million project, because water supplies
are a growing concern in the fast-developing county.
"The timing is right," he said. "It's something we're
very concerned about."