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City of Waukesha water diversion application

Ohio Environmental Council, November 19, 2015

Testimony delivered by Kristy Meyer to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

On behalf of the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and our more than 3,000 individual members and 100 group members, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to provide public comments on the City of Waukesha’s Water Diversion Application.

My name is Kristy Meyer and I am the managing director of agricultural, health & clean water programs at the OEC. The OEC is a 46 year-old statewide not-for-profit advocacy organization whose mission is to secure healthy air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home. We use scientific research, statewide partnerships, legislative initiatives, and legal action to secure a healthier environment for Ohio’s families and communities.

I have been working on the development and implementation of the Great LakesSt. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact for more than a decade. I have been involved in the development of the Compact, was present at the Governors’ and Premiers’ signing ceremony, successfully worked with Ohio’s General Assembly to pass the Compact in our state, worked with Ohio’s Congressional members to see it ratified in Congress, served on Ohio’s implementation Advisory Committee, and continue to be involved in the implementation of the Compact. Before me, the OEC had been working on the development of the Compact for more than two decades as the Compact offers important water supply protections for millions of Ohioans and the wildlife and natural systems that depend on the Ohio Lake Erie basin. The OEC recognized the importance of the Compact because for the first time the Great Lakes were treated as one ecosystem – what happens in one part of the Great Lakes has implications for all of the Great Lakes.

The OEC, therefore, is very concerned about the city of Waukesha’s Water Diversion application. This application has the potential to unravel the commitment that we have made to the lakes and the wildlife and people that depend on the lakes.

The city of Waukesha, as you know, is requesting  to divert on average 10.1 million gallons of water per a day (mgd) and 16.7 mgd at its peak from Lake Michigan to the city of Waukesha. While the Compact does ban any Great Lakes water leaving the basin, there are some exceptions. Under the Compact’s exception standard, a community within a county straddling the Great Lakes watershed can apply for a water diversion after the community has exhausted all other options. The city, however, must also demonstrate that the diversion amount being requested is considered reasonable for the water uses’ intended purposes. The city of Waukesha’s application does neither. Therefore, we believe the application does not comply with the Great Lakes Compact.

According to an independent study by Jim Nicolas, former director of the U.S. Geological Survey in Michigan and now an independent consultant, Waukesha’s water demand has been falling since the late 1980’s. Yet the city of Waukesha projects a much higher demand for water use in the future. This is inconsistent with historical trends. Even with Waukesha’s 2050 Water Service Supply Area (WSSA) projected industrial and residential growth of 76,330 people, the expected total average day demand will be 6.7 mgd and at the maximum 11.1 mgd. These numbers are well below the 16.7 mgd that Waukesha currently is demanding. As such, the requested amount  cannot be considered reasonable.

Furthermore, Waukesha provides no justification of why it needs so much water. One can only presume that the City of Waukesha includes the city of Pewaukee and the towns of Delafield, Genessee, and Waukesha in its WSSA to highlight the Waukesha’s need for additional water. These towns, however, have not expressed a need for a new source of, or a need for, additional water. Furthermore, some of the public officials from these areas have indicted that they do not need water now or into the foreseeable future. So this begs the question, Why is the city of Waukesha requesting such an unjustifiable amount of water?

Lastly, over the last couple of years groundwater levels in Southeast Wisconsin have been rising, or at the very least stabilizing, according to the “An Analysis of the City of Waukesha Diversion Application” report authored by Jim Nicolas. Recently two independent engineering firms looked at Waukesha’s proposal, including the alternatives, which include utilizing existing water supply wells and just treating the wells with high levels of radium to meet water quality requirements for safe drinking. The engineering firms concluded that Waukesha can use its existing deep and shallow water wells to provide amble clean water and meet current and future demands, as long as the city invests in three new reverse osmosis plants. Utilizing Waukesha’s existing wells and treating the wells with high levels of radium with reverse osmosis would cost half the cost of Waukesha’s water diversion request, saving residents and local businesses money while meeting future demands and protecting the health of Waukesha’s residents, according to the independent analysis.

The Great Lakes are a shared resource. No single state owns the Great Lakes. Rather each state and province is a steward of the Lakes. While on its face, Wisconsin may not see approving this diversion application as impacting the whole Great Lakes region, each state will be impacted and the Great Lakes eventually will pay the ultimate price.

For those of you that might not know, Lake Erie is the most biologically productive. It produces more fish for human consumption than all of the other Lakes combined. This coupled with boating, wildlife watching, and other recreational activities, Lake Erie generates more than $12.9 billion in revenue for the state of Ohio each year. Tourism is the 3rd largest industry in Ohio and more than a quarter of the revenue generated comes from the eight Ohio counties that boarder the Lake. More than 119,000 people’s jobs directly depend on Lake Erie. It is clear that Lake Erie is vital to the health and economic vitality of Ohio. Ohio’s Governor, John Kasich, also understands the importance of Lake Erie to Ohio. As such, and since the decision on Waukesha’s water diversion application has such big implications for the region, my Governor has a stake in this decision. He has stood strong, protecting Lake Erie from harmful water diversion proposals in the past.

Your decision on this application has the ability to unravel the benefits Ohio is awarded because of Lake Erie. You might be wondering how. A favorable decision could ensure the Great Lakes’ death by a thousand straws, as there are many communities outside of the watershed around the Great Lakes that might be more willing to consider withdrawing Great Lakes water in the future. With a favorable approval of this diversion application, it almost ensures that those future communities would also get favorable approvals.

For all these reasons, we respectfully urge the Wisconsin DNR to deny this diversion application. We further ask the city of Waukesha to withdrawal its application. Instead, we respectfully suggest Waukesha utilize its existing wells and build the three reverse osmosis plants to protect its residents, as well as save their residents unnecessary high rate increases.

Thank you again for this opportunity.