American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin
Press Release

Racial Justice Supporters tell DNR: “We Oppose Water Diversion to Waukesha”

The groups object to the application because diverting water to the suburbs will worsen segregation and racial disparities in the region.

By - Aug 28th, 2015 11:05 am
The Lake Michigan Basin and supporting water systems. Image: U.S. Geological Survey

The Lake Michigan Basin and supporting water systems. Image: U.S. Geological Survey

Milwaukee – Today, the NAACP-Milwaukee Branch, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, and environmental attorney Dennis Grzezinski, filed comments with the Department of Natural Resources, asking them to deny Waukesha’s application for diversion of water from Lake Michigan. The groups object to the application because diverting water to the suburbs will worsen segregation and racial disparities in the region.

“Thus far, the environmental impact study has utterly failed to address, much less resolve, the needs and concerns of communities of color,” said Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

“Allowing a Lake Michigan water diversion to enable continued unrestrained sprawl and job migration will have the inevitable effect of perpetuating racial and economic segregation in the region, to the clear disadvantage of persons of color, especially African-Americans,” added Fred Royal, president of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP.

It is one thing for a water diversion application to seek to serve an existing community that has no other alternative. It is quite another for a community to seek to divert water not only to meet its current needs, but to support and undergird industrial, commercial and residential expansion – especially when the benefits of that expansion exclude communities of color, mostly African-Americans, in the region.

“And the requested diversion is not needed to serve an existing “community” in need of water, as the Great Lakes Compact requires,” explained attorney Grzezinski. As comments and studies submitted by others, such as the Compact Implementation Coalition, make clear, the city of Waukesha could meet its water needs without diverting Lake Michigan water. That it wants more water to support future growth and expansion outside the city limits does not justify the diversion.

“If a diversion is not used to increase development in the Waukesha suburbs, then there’s more incentive for those jobs and employers to locate or relocate in the city of Milwaukee,” added MICAH president, Rev. Willie Brisco. “And we all know that is something our community needs.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin is a non-profit, non-partisan, private organization whose 7,000 members support its efforts to defend the civil rights and liberties of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison.

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10 thoughts on “Racial Justice Supporters tell DNR: “We Oppose Water Diversion to Waukesha””

  1. TF says:

    If you choose to live in a community far removed from any viable water source, c’est la vie.

  2. D says:

    I going to laugh when this leads to gentrification in Milwaukee and people complain about all the former Waukesha residents pricing people out of Milwaukee neighborhoods.

  3. AG says:

    TF, how is this a place far removed from a viable water source? At the time Waukesha was founded, and right up until not too long ago, it was a place considered rich in water resources. Between the Fox river, the natural springs, shallow and deep aquifer’s, and Lake Michigan I’m sure few people ever thought this would be an area pressed for clean water. Funny how that turned out… however, it’s not like this is in the middle of a desert like some cities.

  4. Tim says:

    It’s cheaper by half for Waukesha to manage the water resources they do have. Building a long straw to Lake Michigan is not cheap, it makes you wonder why the residents would rather pay more money for this.

  5. AG says:

    Tim, the absolute cheapest alternative is 17% less than the Lake Michigan diversion plan. That plan doesn’t completely solve the radium problem, has a host of other contaminants that must be delt with compared to the diversion plan, and will have adverse effects on many wetland areas.

    Honestly though, you and the groups in this press release don’t care about costs. This is only about the regional rivalries that people enjoy perpetuating. At least the ACLU admits in this PR that they’re only opposing it b/c they don’t want to help the burbs because of the rivalry. However maybe our time would be better spent addressing connecting the jobs instead of trying to prevent new ones from being created.

  6. Tim says:

    Where’d you get that 17% number, that’s the highest I’ve heard by far. Next, I don’t know what you mean by “solve the radium problem”, if you mean giving people water that meets national standards for radium, then yes, treating local water would solve that.

    Using local sources of water as Waukesha does now, also does not adversely affect wetland areas with current usage. If Waukesha were to suddenly hugely expand their service area, then yes, there would be issues.

    Waukesha has better & cheaper options available locally to themselves, logicallly it doesn’t make sense for them to push for Lake Michigan water unless something else is going on. What’s their actual plan? As someone who seems to carry a lot of water for Waukesha on this topic; maybe you can shed some light on that AG?

  7. AG says:

    Cost for preferred option is $332,400,000 and the cheapest alternative is the “Deep and Shallow Aquifers” option that comes in 17% less with a cost of $275,560,000.

    What I meant by not completely solving the radium problem is that under many options the deep aquifer would be slow to replenish. Some options would still be pulling the high radium water while relying on diluting it to bring it to safe levels. This makes it conform to the regulations, but there’s better ways to do it.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying by “using local water sources as they do now” because those local sources are the source of the radium. They can’t do that. Hence the whole reason for this. Any other option besides Lake Michigan will have adverse affects on the wetlands. That does not even address the expanded coverage area that by law they must cover.

    Here is the actual plan and the alternatives:
    http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/waterUse/documents/waukesha/draftWaukeshaTechnicalReview.pdf

    I have not seen one solid reason given yet regarding why they shouldn’t be granted the diversion. The best answer, and a mediocre one at that, is cost… but the cost isn’t as extreme as many people believe, especially when you consider the commerical and residential cost savings due to higher quality water. Those cost savings come through such sources as no longer needing to soften water, saving wear/tear on appliances and plumbing, etc.

  8. AG says:

    Oh, also… I did enjoy the pun.

  9. Tim says:

    I see why your “cheapest alternative” is only coming in at 17% less, it’s because that’s not including this detailed alternative:

    http://static1.squarespace.com/static/55845d9de4b0b4466f1267b9/t/55b26a8de4b0f414ae482ea3/1437756045901/Non-Diversion+Alternative+Report_City+of+Waukesha+Water+Supply_Full.pdf

    Treatment & blending of existing sources of water is more than suitable to meet demand now & for the next 50 years in Waukesha. Don’t you think those expensive pipes to Lake Michigan will ever need to be replaced? It’s not just locking in Waukesha to higher costs now, but on-going forever.

    This level of water use in Waukesha has shown that there isn’t an impact to wetland & the aquifer has actually rebounded over the last 10 years as water use has declined. Why would Waukesha need more & more water capacity when its demand has been dropping?

    Have you ever contemplated that much of this opposition is from Waukesha taxpayers themselves that don’t want to be stuck paying for this public works vanity project?

  10. AG says:

    Tim, that is not and never was a viable option for several reasons.

    1. It makes generous assumptions regarding current vs future water service. Waukesha has made huge strides in water conservation, but has also seen a large drop in water usage due to a large decrease in industrial production. They also assume a population growth rate of .5% which is far below where they have been in recent years.
    2. Due to reason #1, they have not built in a robust system to cover peak loads for the future. This could be a disaster and would leave the city looking for additional water options down the road.
    3. It makes assumptions that the small stabilization in the deep aquifer of the last couple years will continue. At the same time, they recognize that even with the water depth stabilizing it is likely drawing down from a larger/wider area and will soon affect neighbors like Elm Grove and New Berlin. This would put other communities at risk to pay for Waukesha’s water draw down.
    4. It ignores the full area that Waukesha is legally bound to service. This is the only way they could squeeze out enough capacity to cover the city. However, this is out of Waukesha’s hands and rightfully so. Genesee depot is a perfect example of why these coverage areas are created. They have tainted wells and have no other alternative than going to another municipality to get their water. Without these regulations in place, small communities can find themselves in an impossible situation. I don’t think this plan even covers Genesee Depot so you have to add in those costs and the water capacity needs.
    5. It ignores the environmental benefits of using and returning Lake Michigan Water. For example, because everyone uses water softeners, Waukesha produces an extremely high level of Chlorides in their waste water. This affects streams, wetlands, rivers, etc.
    6. Ignores the added costs of water softeners, treatment, appliance and plumbing repairs, industrial and HVAC equipment, etc. that comes with the quality of water Waukesha is forced to use now.

    This isn’t some fancy pet project. This the Lake Michigan diversion is the best option. Not the cheapest, but the best. Again your only real argument is cost, but you can’t use the cost of this fake plan, it’s not viable the way they created it. The real options are not much cheaper and the preferred plan is better or equal to any other plan in every way.

    Time to admit this is just about hating suburbanites.

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