Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Milwaukee would have benefited from selling water to Waukesha


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jul 12, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:6A

Milwaukee would have benefited from selling water to Waukesha

Mayor Jeff Scrima once infamously claimed that as long as rain fell from the sky, the city of Waukesha would have water.

Well, we’re in a drought. Conditions are so dry that the city’s fireworks display for Independence Day set the grass on fire at the airport.

We’re drier than a rural town in Utah on a Sunday morning.

It seems appropriate then that our big neighbor to the east of 124th Street would take the opportunity to decide not to sell us any water. So much for regional cooperation.

The city of Milwaukee’s Common Council actually voted 14-0-1 last Friday to try to limit negotiations for the sale of water to only the city of Waukesha and not the entire Waukesha Water Utility service area. It’s like wanting to dive into a swimming pool but not wanting to get wet.

The Department of Natural Resources and Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) both warned Milwaukee that if they are going to offer to sell us water from the Great Lakes, it would have to be for the entire service area or it would not be sufficient for Waukesha’s application to have a Great Lakes water diversion.

Milwaukee’s aldermen plugged their ears, covered their eyes, and cast the vote that will take them out of consideration as a possible source of water for Waukesha.

And then there were two. Waukesha is already negotiating with Racine and Oak Creek. By the end of summer we should have an agreement with at least one of them to sell us water. Once the agreement is reached, Waukesha’s application for a diversion of water from the Great Lakes can go forward without Milwaukee.

If the intention of some of the Milwaukee aldermen was to derail Waukesha’s water application, they have only made the process easier by removing the biggest obstacle to support from within Waukesha for the pursuit of Lake Michigan water.

Waukesha residents have been leery of Milwaukee’s intentions regarding the water sales and some of the preconditions its Common Council has made on any future water sales. While many of the concerns were unfounded (water sales, like any other utility, are regulated by the state Public Service Commission), the removal of Milwaukee as a possible partner should shore up support for purchasing water from the other two communities.

If the intention by the Milwaukee Common Council was to combat “suburban sprawl,” they failed miserably. Gone is any leverage Milwaukee may have had in regional planning as the rest of the surrounding communities now see Milwaukee’s real attitude toward regional cooperation. Waukesha’s water will come without any future strings attached, real or imagined.

Milwaukee also may have succeeded in punishing its own water utility ratepayers, regardless if they live in the city or are residents of another community already purchasing water from Milwaukee. Milwaukee Water Works is operating at 25 percent capacity. Milwaukee Water Works has to pay the costs associated with that unused capacity.

If Waukesha were able to purchase water from Milwaukee, the costs of that unused capacity could have been shared.

Instead, when Waukesha purchases water from Racine or Oak Creek, new infrastructure will have to be built. It doesn’t take a cartographer to see that the new pipeline will be able to service other Milwaukee-area communities en route. Communities like West Allis and New Berlin will have an alternative source of water, forcing Milwaukee to compete for their business.

When the pipeline is built through neighboring communities and the construction jobs bypass the city of Milwaukee, perhaps some Milwaukee aldermen will look back on Friday and wonder what they were thinking.

* * *

Wales Summer Splash is this Friday and Saturday at the Wales Community Park. This is a great event for families and I hope to see everyone there.

There is a cupcake contest, a wing eating contest, a Slurpee drinking contest, carnival rides, potato sack races, a silent auction and live music in the evenings.

The event benefits Wales Park and Rec, but more important it’s just a lot of fun. If you see me out there, please stop and say hello.

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


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