Town of Waukesha should join service area

by James Wigderson | April 26, 2013 5:06 pm

Despite most of the speakers at Thursday night’s meeting speaking in favor of remaining in the city of Waukesha’s water service area and the possibility of mass requests for annexation to the city, the Town of Waukesha’s supervisors punted. From the Waukesha Freeman today:

TOWN OF WAUKESHA – During Thursday’s night Town Board meeting, the tone ranged from questioning to combative as the supervisors once again took up the subject of whether town land should be included in the city of Waukesha’s water service supply area. Neither of the agenda items concerning the water service supply area were approved; instead a new motion was made and approved that set a future date for the board to meet and to send the city a counteroffer.

Supervisor Joe Banske moved for the board to establish a date no later than April 29 to submit a written counteroffer to the city regarding a letter the town received Thursday. The meeting will be open and in a public workshop format during which a draft letter will be created. The motion was unanimously approved.


Here is my newspaper column that appeared in Thursday’s Waukesha Freeman:

Listen to the water experts

Town of Waukesha should join service area

Waukesha Freeman April 26, 2013 Opinion Page a6 Untitled[1]

The Town of Waukesha Town Board is meeting tonight to decide if it wants to be in the service area for the Waukesha Water Utility. At stake for the town is whether it will always have a sustainable and reliable source of water.

If the town decides not to be in the same service area as the city, then the town will have no access to city water, even in an emergency.

Contrary to the belief of some in the town, emergencies do happen. On July 17, 2012, a pipeline broke in the Town of Jackson in Washington County. The pipeline spilled 55,000 gallons of gasoline and the town suddenly had a water emergency.

If the shallow aquifer becomes contaminated, the wells of the town will become unusable. Conservation won’t solve that problem.

It’s also worth remembering why the city of Waukesha is pursuing diverting water from Lake Michigan in the first place. The Environmental Protection Agency decided that the city’s water supply has too much radium in it.

Like the town, longtime residents of the city didn’t think there was anything wrong with the city water. They drank it for years, and they were fine, right? So the city of Waukesha took the EPA to court. And the city lost.

Now the city is trying to beat the clock to meet the mandate to get water with lower radium content. Unfortunately, the deep aquifer that the city relies upon is getting lower and more contaminated every year. Town residents’ wells rely upon a shallow aquifer that is increasingly also the source of the city’s water. If the city is forced to rely even more upon the shallow aquifer, the Town of Waukesha will have to compete with a much bigger straw drawing at the shared water resource.

Surface water features such as Poplar Creek could be affected. Then there are the issues of litigation, a heavy expense already for the town.

It’s certainly in the town’s best interests if the city is successful in its application for a Great Lakes water diversion. But if the town is not in the service area, it cannot benefit from the city’s effort to have a sustainable, long-term solution for a water supply. If the Department of Natural Resources or the EPA suddenly decides the Town of Waukesha’s water does not meet the appropriate standards, it will have to find its own alternative source.

That may sound easy, but where will they find it? The Waukesha County Environmental Action League won’t be able to give them enough rain barrels. They will go through the same process of examining and then eliminating the options that the city went through.

Town residents should ask themselves if they could afford to hire the water consultants that would develop just the application for Great Lakes water. Could the town afford to build its own pipeline?

When the city of Green Bay decided to build a pipeline, the surrounding communities did not want to participate. They decided to rely upon the aquifer that Green Bay was no longer using.

Years later, the aquifer was no longer sufficient for even the smaller communities. Those communities either had to go back to Green Bay and ask if they could hook up at Green Bay’s terms and conditions, or they had to build their own pipelines.

If the Town of Waukesha does not agree to be in the service area, it will not even have the option of changing its mind later and asking the city for help. Making a wrong decision now will be very expensive later.

The Town of Waukesha isn’t even being asked to contribute to the construction of the pipeline. That will be paid by the Waukesha Water Utility’s ratepayers.

All the city is asking is the Heidi Klum question, “Are you in, or are you out?” Oh, and, “Will you make up your minds already? We have some paperwork to file here.”

The town’s water consultants agree they should be in the water service area. The town spent good money getting that advice. Listening to that advice will beat spending more money later to fix a problem that could easily have been avoided.

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