Waukesha’s Diversion Application


In 2010, the City of Waukesha, Wisconsin became the first community to apply for a diversion under the Great Lakes Compact. Naturally-occuring radium in Waukesha’s existing groundwater supply exceeds EPA standards several days out of the year, and EPA has required that the City of Waukesha, along with more than 50 other Wisconsin communities, meet the federal radium standard  by 2006 (Waukesha and a number of other communities missed this deadline and have received an extension to comply  by 2018). Waukesha is now seeking Great Lakes water to comply with EPA’s requirement that they treat the radium or find an alternative water supply.

Waukesha’s application process has been ongoing for over five years and is in the final stretch of review. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has approved their application and advanced it to regional review by all Great Lakes governors (the Canadian premiers provide input but do not get a vote). Following reviews by each state, the Great Lakes governors will vote on whether to accept or deny the application. Unanimous approval is required for a diversion request to be granted.

While Save the Dunes and partner organizations are not opposed to diversions, Waukesha’s application is weak and inconsistent with the Compact. The application does not meet specific criteria required by the Compact, and approval of this request will be precedent-setting and allow for future weak diversion applications to progress. Maintaining the integrity and meaning of the Compact is crucial for Great Lakes protection.

A few brief points on our concern with the City of Waukesha’s application:

1. Waukesha’s application does not pass legal muster under the federally ratified Great Lakes Compact.

Waukesha’s application does not meet specific criteria outlined in the Compact, including implementation of conservation and efficiency measures prior to applying for a diversion; meeting the definition of a community in need; demonstrating that the return flow plan will not compromise the water quality of the return river or the health of nearby residents; and lacking a reasonable water supply alternative, among other legal issues.

2. Waukesha has a safe and sustainable water supply available to its residents that does not require using water from the Great Lakes.

An independent firm put has developed a report outlining alternative supply options for Waukesha to consider before requesting Great Lakes water. The “Non-Diversion Solution” utilizes the City of Waukesha’s existing well infrastructure coupled with new radium treatment processes. It represents the most cost-effective and technically feasible alternative to meet the existing and future water supply demands for the City. Waukesha, however, has not considered the option of treating their existing supply for radium.

3. Waukesha proposes to divert Great Lakes water to communities who do not need it.

In the City’s application, it includes a number of surrounding communities in requesting water. While consistent with a state-approved sewer service plan designed to promote and accommodate growth, Waukesha’s water supply service area nonetheless conflicts with Great Lakes Compact. The additional communities included in Waukesha’s   diversion application area have demonstrated no need for Lake Michigan water, as they currently have adequate supplies of potable water independent of the Waukesha Water Utility. While Waukesha currently uses approximately 6 millions of gallons per day (MGD) on average, their request is for 10.1 MGD to supply water to these surrounding communities that have not expressed a need or desire for Great Lakes water.

Find more information on the Waukesha diversion application at the Compact Implementation Coalition’s website.

The Great Lakes governors will be reviewing and deliberating Waukesha’s application to divert Great Lakes water until a final decision will be made in mid-June 2016.

Update: Waukesha’s Diversion Application Approved by Compact Council with Conditions.

On June 21st, the Compact Council voted unanimously to approve Waukesha’s diversion application. While Save the Dunes has joined thousands of others in voicing deep concern over this application, the Compact Council has made some critical amendments to the diversion proposal that have improved its compliance with the Great Lakes Compact. These conditions include:

  • Removing all towns and areas from the application that did not need water, so that the proposal only includes the City of Waukesha and areas already receiving water from the city.
  • Reducing the volume of water requested from 10.1 MGD (16 max) to 8.2 MGD average use.
  • Strengthening the enforcement capability of any governor, or the Compact Council, to take actions necessary to compel compliance if Waukesha or WI DNR fail to carry out the conditions placed on the proposal. This includes the ability of any governor to
    request an audit and inspection of how this diversion is being managed and enforced.

Of course, with any diversion exemption granted under the Great Lakes Compact, all water diverted must be returned to the Great Lakes basin. Following treatment of their wastewater, Waukesha will return it to Lake Michigan via the Root River.

While we still believe Waukesha has an alternative water supply available to them, the Compact Council did not agree with that assertion. We appreciate the robust discussions that occurred at several Regional Body and Compact Council meetings this spring, and are encouraged to see that many of our larger concerns are addressed by the added conditions. However, we still have concerns about the Waukesha diversion and will remain heavily engaged to ensure the requirements of the Compact and the specific conditions are enforced.

For more information, contact Cathy Martin at cathy@savedunes.org.