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Great Lakes Article:

Mayor, critics blast Lake Michigan diversion
But planning official says purpose of proposed water use study in 7-county region has been misinterp
Larry Sandler
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 treaty.

The region's top planner agreed with them and said they had misinterpreted the proposed study that led to their news conference.

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 River watershed.

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 with them."

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.

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