Mayor, critics blast Lake Michigan diversion
But planning official says purpose of proposed
water use study in 7-county region has been misinterp
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Mayor John O. Norquist, aldermen and environmentalists
Monday denounced the idea of diverting Lake Michigan water
to the far western suburbs, a move they said would endanger
the environment, violate federal law and break an international
The region's top planner agreed with them and said they
had misinterpreted the proposed study that led to their
At issue was a Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning
Commission proposal to conduct a three-year, $1 million
study of water use in the seven-county region. That proposal
reflects concerns that suburban growth is on track to
exhaust the existing underground water supply, said Phil
Evenson, executive director of the planning commission.
As part of the study, the proposal suggests analyzing
laws that govern water use. That includes a U.S.-Canadian
ban on pumping Great Lakes water across the subcontinental
divide that separates the lakes' watershed from the Mississippi
In Waukesha County, that divide is the crest of the ridge
at Sunny Slope Road in Brookfield, Milwaukee Water Works
Superintendent Carrie Lewis said.
Norquist, the Sierra Club and four Milwaukee aldermen
viewed the study as a step toward changing the law to
allow water diversions across the subcontinental divide,
which they said would lead to sending water to other states,
not just other counties.
At a news conference in Lake Park, Norquist gestured
at the expanse of water behind him and said, "That's Lake
Michigan. There's a lot of water there, but there's not
enough to send to Texas and Nebraska and the part of Waukesha
County that's across the subcontinental divide."
Norquist said he had nothing against Waukesha County
and had supported water sales to Menomonee Falls, but
Great Lakes mayors, governors and provincial premiers
are united in opposing water diversions.
Ald. Fred Gordon called water diversions "egregious"
and "unconscionable," while Ald. Mike Murphy slammed the
planning commission as "inept" and "out of control." Also
joining in the attack were Alds. Don Richards and Mike
D'Amato; Sierra Club representative Rosemary Wehnes; Peter
McAvoy, environmental health director of the 16th St.
Health Center; and United Nations supporter Susan McGovern.
Told that they called water diversions across the divide
illegal and unwise, Evenson said, "I would tend to agree
The planning commission has no intention of proposing
any diversions that would run counter to existing laws
and sound environmental practice, Evenson said. Analyzing
those laws is a small part of the study, intended to provide
a legal framework for the commission's work, he said.
Planners are more interested in looking at ways in which
communities now served by well water within the Lake Michigan
watershed - such as eastern New Berlin - can legitimately
use lake water, Evenson said.
Murphy, a Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District commissioner,
and several other speakers at the news conference said
they opposed selling water to the suburbs on the grounds
that it would encourage sprawl.
Evenson said the suburbs would grow whether or not Milwaukee
sold water to them, and that it would make sense for Milwaukee
to make the best "win-win" deals it can negotiate.