Strength in Numbers?
Waukesha water backers want a regional water authority.
Would the creation of a regional water authority encompassing Southeastern Wisconsin strengthen Waukesha's application to divert drinking water from Lake Michigan?
Differing answers to this question have created the latest skirmish in Waukesha's quest for approval under the Great Lakes Compact. DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, State Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and Rich Meeusen, CEO of Badger Meter and co-chair of the Milwaukee Water Council, all say yes, but Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said no in a Nov. 30 Crossroads piece for the Journal Sentinel.
Officials from Wisconsin pushed to include the ability of such a regional entity to apply for a diversion outside the Great Lakes basin, but it was intentionally rejected, he says. "It is hard to believe that all eight Great Lakes governors will sign off on an application unless they believe it is consistent with the conditions set forth in the compact."
Another avenue to approval written into the Compact -- for cities or towns inside counties that lie partially within the basin, as Waukesha County does -- was included specifically for Waukesha, Barrett says.
But Stepp, Stone and Meeusen interpret language in the same passage as leaving the door open to regional authorities. In an August letter, Stepp argues that they were left out because the other signing states, unlike Wisconsin, lacked a tradition of regional water planning. (Around these parts, it's routinely conducted by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.)
Stone and Meeusen reiterated the read-between-the-lines argument in a statement on Wednesday, citing the Compact's definition of a "community within a straddling county," as Waukesha is for purposes of seeking approval: "Any incorporated city, town or the equivalent thereof that is located outside the basin but wholly within a county that lies partly within the basin and that is not a straddling community." They say, as Stepp does, that "equivalent thereof" was included to cover regional water authorities.
"If Mayor Barrett is so certain this proposal is doomed for failure, why not let the other states and provinces make that determination for themselves?" the statement concludes.
Barrett has also attempted to limit the service area Waukesha would receive water for. The city would like to include areas outside its current customer base in the application to account for future growth, but the Milwaukee mayor has argued that the Compact was designed to protect the Great Lakes from sprawl, in Wisconsin or in other states.
(illustration by Adrian Palomo)