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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Waukesha’s proposed Great Lakes Water Diversion

Today, over 40 bi-national conservation groups from across the Great Lakes submitted comments to the Regional Body and Compact Council urging the Great Lakes Governors to deny the first application for a Great Lakes diversion under the Great Lakes Compact.  Today is the last day for the public to comment on this proposal.

“The heart and soul of the Great Lakes Compact is the ban on diversions.  The Waukesha diversion application is the first since the Compact was adopted in 2008.  This application is a critical proving ground for the Compact, establishing its effectiveness and serving as a precedent for subsequent diversion proposals.  Given this historic moment, we must get this right.”

For more information on the diversion, please visit: protectourgreatlakes.org

March 14, 2016

Great Lakes –St. Lawrence Regional Body and Compact Council Waukesha Diversion Comments
c/o Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers
20 N. Wacker Drive, Suite 2700
Chicago, Illinois 60606

Dear Regional Body/Compact Council Members:

On behalf of the undersigned bi-national conservation and environmental organizations and associations representing hundreds of thousands of people from across the Great Lakes, we are writing to submit public comments concerning the City of Waukesha’s proposed Great Lakes Water Diversion Application under the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact).

The Great Lakes are a value to all of us, providing a cultural and economic identity.  They are part of our lives, help define who we are as a region, and they must be protected.  The Great Lakes Compact was designed and adopted to do just that: protect our Great Lakes.

The Waukesha diversion application is the first since the Compact was adopted in 2008.  This application is a critical proving ground for the Compact, establishing its effectiveness and serving as a precedent for subsequent diversion proposals.  Given this historic moment, we must get this right.

The Compact bans water diversions outside of the Great Lakes Basin with limited exceptions. A community outside the basin can only receive approval of a diversion under the Compact’s exception standard.  Any community applying for a diversion must demonstrate that it has exhausted all reasonable options to obtain water.  In essence, diversions must be a last resort.

The City of Waukesha can apply for an exception to the ban on Great Lakes diversions on its own behalf, but it cannot apply on behalf of a Water Supply Service Area (WSSA). By doing so, the application is defective because it is based on the purported need of a proposed WSSA.  As a result and in addition to the concerns we list below, Waukesha’s current application falls short of the Compact’s requirements.  Therefore, we respectfully request that the Regional Body and Compact Council Members veto this application on the ground that it does not meet the exception standard requirements of the Compact.

In particular, as we explain in more detail below, the City of Waukesha: 1) does not justify why it needs so much more water than it is currently using; 2) does not consider all reasonable alternatives to provide potable water for its residents; and 3) proposes to divert Great Lakes water to communities who do not need it.  Consequently, the Compact prohibits the approval of an exception from the ban on diversions.

Waukesha Fails to Demonstrate its Need for Increased Water

Under Section 4.9.4.b of the Compact, “The Exception will be limited to quantities that are considered reasonable for the purposes for which it is proposed.” Waukesha is currently using approximately 6 million gallons per day.  Yet, it is requesting a maximum capacity of 16 million gallons per day.  The City suggests that it will average about 10.1 million gallons per day as an annual average to meet projected demand at full build-out.  This is quite a jump and is not consistent with demand forecasts and historical trends that show water usage in the southeast region of Wisconsin is on the decline.

A National Wildlife Federation report authored in February 2013 by Jim Nicholas, a scientist and retired director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Michigan Water Science Center, shows that Waukesha’s forecasts of average-day demand and maximum-day demand are based on models that inflate the city’s need for water in the future and are inconsistent with historical trends. Waukesha’s per capita water use or demand is declining and has been declining for about three decades.  Waukesha’s demand forecast for 2050, however, assumes a significant increase in per capita water use, despite planned implementation of conservation measures aimed at reducing water use. In addition, the report shows that regional groundwater levels in Southeast Wisconsin are stabilizing or rising.  The application fails to demonstrate why the city needs so much more water than it is currently using.  Without an explanation justifying the higher demand, the proposed diversion amount cannot be considered reasonable and, therefore, is inconsistent with the Compact.

Waukesha has a Feasible, Much Less Expensive, Alternative to Meet its Water Needs

Under Section 4.9.3.d of the Compact, an applicant for a diversion must demonstrate that “There is no reasonable water supply alternative within the basin in which the community is located, including conservation of existing water supplies.”  A July 2015 report by two independent engineering firms found that Waukesha has a feasible water supply alternative. The report concluded that Waukesha can use its existing deep and shallow water wells to provide ample clean and safe water to its residents now and in the future if it invests in additional water treatment infrastructure to ensure the water supply meets state and federal standards. This treatment alternative costs much less than a diversion, secures water independence for Waukesha residents, protects public health, and minimizes adverse resource impacts. Treating the city’s existing wells for radium in order to provide potable water is an obvious and reasonable option that the City of Waukesha does not even consider in the application. Over three dozen other communities in Wisconsin alone, not to mention scores of other communities around the country, have chosen this route and already provide potable drinking water to their residents.  Failure to evaluate this alternative in the application is not consistent with the Compact.

Diverting Great Lakes Water for Towns that Don’t Need It

Under Section 4.9.3.a of the Compact, “The Water shall be used solely for the Public Water Supply Purposes of the Community within a Straddling County that is without adequate supplies of potable water.” The city’s application proposes that Great Lakes water be diverted for other towns in Waukesha County, including Pewaukee and the towns of Delafield and Waukesha, among others, that may not need water.  To date, none of the communities in Waukesha’s “extended service area” has demonstrated that it is without adequate supplies of safe drinking water.  In fact, some officials in these areas have stated that they do not need water now or in the foreseeable future.  While Wisconsin statutes may dictate that Waukesha include these areas as part of its application, the Compact is clear that a need for water must exist in the community to be eligible for a diversion.   If these areas are included as part of Waukesha’s diversion application, they must demonstrate that they meet all requirements of the Compact, including that they are without adequate supplies of potable water and that there is no reasonable water supply alternative, including conservation, before the application is approved.

In closing, we appreciate the commitment of the Regional Body and Compact Council Members in negotiating, developing and implementing the Great Lakes Compact.  Many long hours were invested in developing the exception standards to Great Lakes diversion leading up to adoption of the Compact.  Now is the time to ensure those standards are met and applied to this diversion proposal.  As such, we respectfully request that each member of the Compact Council veto this application on the ground that it is not consistent with the Compact standards.  We appreciate your consideration of our comments.  If you have specific questions about our comments, please contact Marc Smith with National Wildlife Federation at msmith@nwf.org.  We look forward to working with you throughout this process.


National Wildlife
Alliance for the Great Lakes
Michigan United Conservation Clubs
Ohio Environmental Council
Prairie Rivers Network (Illinois)
For Love of Water
Friends of the St. Joe River Association
Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Inc.
League of Ohio Sportsmen
Canadian Environmental Law Association
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council (Michigan)
Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Freshwater Future
Environmental Advocates of New York
Save the River & Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper
Lake Erie Charter Boat Association
Hoosier Environmental Council
Great Lakes Environmental Law Center
Mullett Lake Area Preservation Society (Michigan)
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters
Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Rivers Alliance of Wisconsin
Milwaukee Water Commons
Save the Dunes (Indiana)
Michigan Environmental Council
Burt Lake Preservation Association (Michigan)
Save Lake Superior Association (Minnesota)
Ohio Conservation Federation
Izaak Walton League of American, Great Lakes Committee
League of Woman Voters, Lake Michigan Region
Indiana Wildlife Federation
Clean Wisconsin
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Citizens Campaign for the Environment (New York)
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
Nature Quebec
Midwest Environmental Advocates
Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter
Save Our Sky Blue Waters (Minnesota)

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