Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Mayor should present water alternative or get out of the way

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:2011 May 05; Section:Opinion; Page Number: 8A

Mayor should present water alternative or get out of the way

Last week the city handed in its homework for the Department of Natural Resources explaining why the city will need to divert Lake Michigan water. The answers were really quite the same as last time, just in more detail where the DNR requested more information. Any sources of water other than Lake Michigan will be too costly, will endanger the health of our residents and will endanger the environment.

It’s worth remembering how we got to this point. The city of Waukesha is required to reduce the radium content of its drinking water to meet federal guidelines by 2018. Despite the protests of city leaders that radium will put hair on our chests, build character, and make us strong like Popeye, the Environmental Protection Agency thinks water that gives us that healthy glow might be bad for us. The courts sided with the EPA.

Complicating matters, the deep aquifer from where we have been drawing water keeps getting lower. The lower the water level, the more contaminants the city has to separate from the water we’re drinking.

The Great Lakes Compact allows for a diversion of water from the lakes to a community in a county that straddles the divide between the Great Lakes basin and the Mississippi basin, as long as the community returns the water to the source. The exception allowing the diversion was written with the full knowledge that the city of Waukesha would be applying.

For the city of Waukesha’s application to be approved, all of the governors of the Great Lakes states must give their approval. One of the criteria they will use is whether there is an alternative source of water.

As the application makes clear, there are no other realistic sources of water.

Right now the city’s water supply is diluted by water from shallow wells to reduce the radium content percentage. That sounds great, but digging more shallow wells will bring its own problems. Not only is digging more wells more expensive, but the neighboring communities will not be happy when their residents’ wells run dry and the lakes and streams begin to shrink.

Inconceivably, Mayor Jeff Scrima continues his passive-aggressive resistance to his city’s best interests. The mayor continues to insist that the city has water alternatives.

Unfortunately for Scrima, his proposal of using a combination of sources, including water from quarries outside the city limits, is nearly double the cost of the Lake Michigan plan. Even if cost was no object, the mayor’s ideas of alternative water sources runs into all of the problems that I described above.

Unfortunately the childish fantasies of the mayor have a real world impact. If any of the Great Lakes governors believe that the city of Waukesha has an alternative source of water, they may be inclined to veto the city’s water application.

That may make the mayor feel good, but the residents of the city will have to live with the implications long after Scrima is out of office.

We can spend our time debating the mayor’s book selections, painting his office, fighting with staff, being judged too much of a child to manage the city administrator, his quirky behavior during last year’s city budget process, his New Day in Waukesha fund, even his absence from the city’s Christmas parade.

But the issue that will have the most impact on the long-term economic health of the city is securing our city’s water future.

The mayor had the chance to speak in opposition to the water application and he did not. The mayor had the chance to veto the city’s water application and did not.

If the mayor has a real alternative to the Great Lakes water application, then let him bring it to the council now. If he does not have an alternative (because there isn’t one) then he has an obligation to support the city’s water application without reservations.

It’s time Scrima makes the choice to be on the side of the city, or on the side of those who do not want our city to succeed. Because if Scrima cannot act in the best interests of the city on the water issue, the most important issue confronting the city, he should resign.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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