Monday, November 20th, 2017

Milwaukee is all wet


Milwaukee’s Common Council voted on Friday to try to limit negotiations for sale of water to Waukesha to the city only, rather than the defined service area. Milwaukee has taken itself out of contention as a potential water supplier, hurting residents and Milwaukee Water Works customers. Here was a case where regional cooperation would have been a win-win situation, and Milwaukee decided to screw itself instead.

The water utility in Milwaukee only operates at 25% of capacity. That means Milwaukee’s water consumers, whether in the city of Milwaukee or in one of Milwaukee’s current suburban customers, are paying for capacity that they don’t need. If Milwaukee was able to sell more water to more customers the costs for the current ratepayers would be spread out.

Making the decision even more unfathomable, by taking itself out of the water marketplace, Milwaukee has now encouraged competition for existing and future customers. It doesn’t take a PhD in geography to picture the communities that a pipeline from Waukesha to Oak Creek or a pipeline from Waukesha to Racine would pass through or near. Communities like New Berlin and West Allis, current wholesale customers of Milwaukee, could have a choice of water suppliers in the future.

If the vote by the members of the Milwaukee Common Council was out of some New Urbanist prejudice against possible “suburban sprawl,” the vote was self-defeating. By removing itself as a potential seller, Milwaukee will not even have the minimum influence over future Waukesha development they were seeking. Instead, Waukesha will be able to buy from Oak Creek or Racine with no planning requirements, and will certainly have no incentive in the future to cooperate with Milwaukee on regional issues.

Milwaukee will have even less influence than before as it has taught Waukesha and surrounding communities that Milwaukee isn’t interested in regional cooperation. Milwaukee still sees development as a zero-sum game, even though Milwaukee’s own study said that water-intensive industries would still choose Milwaukee.

But a growing, prosperous southeastern Wisconsin benefits all of the communities, the whole point behind the Milwaukee 7 regional development council. Milwaukee has lost sight of that and has become the obstacle to regional growth instead.

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