Dave Reid

Water for Waukesha?

By - Dec 18th, 2009 01:49 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Waukesha has been working towards obtaining a diversion of Lake Michigan water from the City of Milwaukee, purportedly because Waukesha has an issue with radium in their water supply due to depletion of their well water levels to an unsustainable level.  The question of selling Great Lakes water to communities outside of the Great Lakes Basin is one that demands numerous questions be answered prior to any diversion being allowed. The request needs extra scrutiny because it would be the first request of its kind handled under the recently past Great Lakes Compact.  Furthermore, any community considering participating in a transaction like this one, must look at the potential environmental impacts, and protect its own self interest, while also attempting to balance the region’s interests.

A water diversion brings with it concerns about waste water handling, return flow, and the potential impact on river systems.  Waukesha’s current plan involves dumping treated water into Underwood Creek, instead of building return flow infrastructure.  This might be a workable solution, but raises questions regarding the impact on water quality and potential flooding.  Further, the current plan would discharge water into the Fox River during high flow periods, which would result in water flowing away from the Great Lakes Basin.  This in itself might be a violation of at least the spirit of the Great Lakes Compact.  Before Milwaukee enters into this transaction it should insure that all water is safely returned to the Great Lakes Basin, to protect not only Lake Michigan, but Milwaukee.

The level of radium in Waukesha’s water might be the short-term reason behind the need for a diversion, but this request is actually about Waukesha’s growth.  Waukesha currently uses approximately seven million gallons of water a day, and current predictions suggest that once the municipality is built-out it will require eleven million gallons a day.  Without access to clean safe water a new subdivision has no value, industry won’t locate there, and economic development will come to a halt.

Access to water is one of Milwaukee’s strengths, and has historically played a role in its economic growth.  Breweries, tanneries, and more recently bottling companies have located in Milwaukee because of the availability of water.  Selling water is essentially the selling off of one of Milwaukee’s core assets, it involves costs, and potentially lost economic opportunities.  It’s not to say that this should preclude a diversion, just that these opportunity costs need to be recouped.  Be it in improved transit service between the two cities, improved sharing of the affordable housing load, or simply in dollars, Milwaukee must consider the cost and determine the true value of water before completing this deal.

Categories: Real Estate

14 thoughts on “Water for Waukesha?”

  1. Joel says:

    Sure the radium isn’t radiation, that is left over from the old NIKE missile silos? lol im just joking…

  2. Jeff Jordan says:

    I’m not sure I can deal with all of the emotional baggage there is with dealing with the problems of development in Waukesha. Particularly, when you think about how much time they concern themselves with the problems of Milwaukee. But you’re right about the regional growth issue and eventually we need to start thinking regionally on a whole range of issues.
    I also want to comment on the site redesign. It’s much cleaner and more navigable. Good job!

  3. EWO says:

    My understanding of the Great Lakes Compact involves keeping water within the basin, because once its removed it doesn’t come back. If Waukesha has reached is water potential, “peek water?” than thats it. Milwaukee should be using this fact to lure industry to return to the industrial center. Milwaukee should not help Waukesha grown beyond its sustainable limits. One of the reasons Milwaukee is a post industrial wreck is because its industry left. Keep the water here, bring the jobs back, screw sprawling unsustainable development.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @EWO Waukesha does have other options to purchase water, Oak Creek and Racine, though you’re right in theory the Compact will make this a very difficult transaction. But my take is that one day there will be a deal made with or without Milwaukee, so Milwaukee might as well get what it can, cash, transit, affordable housing.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Jeff Thanks keep an eye out as we will be rolling out more changes in the near future (I think).

  6. EWO says:

    Dave,
    The thought process that ‘Waukesha will get it’s water one way or another, so we might as well profit from it’ is very dangerous. Its the same process that brought Walmart into many communities who were opposed. ‘Walmart will build in our area whether or not we like it, so we might as well collect the tax money.’ In that case Walmart built where they wanted took advantage of the tax base and the screwed over the municipality. Waukesha will do the same, if we give them water than we endorse their growth. We should be competing with them, luring businesses into Milwaukee and building a healthy business center. If we sell what it ours to someone who only needs it because of their irresponsible growth we will be repeating the mistakes of the past. Many Native Americans thought they could negotiate business deals and look how that worked out. Don’t give Waukesha a drop, and work to get our manufacturing jobs back.

  7. mike says:

    > Selling water is essentially the selling off of one of Milwaukee’s core assets

    How is the actual water an asset? The access to the water is the asset. You don’t “lose” the water that you sell, so you’re not losing any assets selling it.

    It would be stupid to let an asset that has huge income potential sit dormant. It’s like owning an apt building but refusing to rent the rooms.

    The arguments not to sell water to Waukesha are pretty weak. Would Miller Brewing not sell beer to liquor stores in Waukesha to force them to come to Milwaukee stores to buy their beer? That’s right, they’d just get their beer somewhere else, just like they’ll get the water somewhere else.

    > Milwaukee should not help Waukesha grow

    Ah yes, the infamous regional cooperation! I don’t know if it’s a Milwaukee thing or what, but when are you going to realize the “screw the other guy” strategy never works? Yeah, we’re going to choke Waukesha dry until they’re forced to move their companies and residents back into Milwaukee, that’s what they deserve, those evil suburban sprawlers!

    Chicago flushes 2.1 BILLION gallons of Lake Michigan water out of the basin into the Mississippi every DAY, for like the last 100 YEARS. If you’re concerned about damaging the Lake, I would start there. Meanwhile, the City has huge long-term budget problems, let’s bring some outside money into the city and sell the extra water capacity we have. Don’t give it away, but let’s work out a good deal. And yes, we should try to lure water business into Milwaukee, not by holding them hostage, but by offering incentives (like Barrett says he supports cheaper water rates for industrial users).

  8. MilwaukeeD says:

    Mike,

    Milwaukee has been trying to cooperate with Waukesha on a number of issues (housing, jobs, transportation) for decades with little success. It is not by accident that Milwaukee provides housing, education, public safety and other services for a disproportiate number of low income people in the metro area. The suburbs were specifically designed so that they would not have to deal with those problems and expenses. Unfortunately, Waukesha needs water and it would be irresponsible of Milwaukee leaders to give it to them without some form of cooperation on these other issues. Cooperation means that both sides give something.

    It’s unfortunate that it has taken Waukesha’s thirst for water to get them to sit down at the table to even think about regional cooperation. Christ, Waukesha won’t even allow Milwaukee busses to take workers to jobs, yet somehow Milwaukee’s unemployment rate is seen as completely the fault of Milwaukee leaders. If water is the only way to force these conversations to occur and lead to solutions, so be it.

  9. mike says:

    > Christ, Waukesha won’t even allow Milwaukee busses to take workers to jobs

    Give me a break.

    > yet somehow Milwaukee’s unemployment rate is seen as completely the fault of Milwaukee leaders

    I wouldn’t say completely. It’s certainly not the fault of the leaders and residents of Waukesha or any other suburb.

    So lets see how Milwaukee’s leaders play this one out. They aren’t the sole possible seller of water for Waukesha: Racine and Oak Creek will be competing with them. Will Milwaukee be stupid and overplay its hand and say you have to pay for our trains and a bunch of other crap to get our water, and then end up with nothing when Waukesha goes to Oak Creek? Or will Milwaukee realize this is more than a revenue source? I constantly hear Barrett and Doyle prattle on about Milwaukee being this global center for freshwater technology, seems like it would make a lot of sense for the city to actually be using this technology in a real world application. A cutting edge, successful, functioning water distribution and return infrastructure between Milwaukee and Waukesha could be a huge catalyst for new water tech business here. All the better if it can generate a little revenue to help lower the tax burden or maybe fix the existing sewer system so we can stop dumping billions of gallons of poop into the lake. That might also help with the branding of Milwaukee as a freshwater tech research center.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Mike I would point out that Racine and Oak Creek have their own interests to look out for as well so I’d think they would negotiate the best deal they can get as well, and it’s likely there is a reason Waukesha prefers Milwaukee water over those suppliers. My guess is connecting to those other suppliers would have higher costs to start. Just look at New Berlin, they still came to Milwaukee even after having to pay up some extra one time cash (not enough).

    That said from my point of view, Waukesha will eventually get a water deal from somebody (I know @EWO it’s an unfortunate point of view to take), though this is going to be a mess for them NOTE: Great Lakes Compact, so Milwaukee should go after what it thinks is in the best interest of Milwaukee, be it cash, or whatever else they determine is worth the value (transit, or affordable housing regs).

    PS I’d add that MMSD is not the same entity as the Milwaukee Water Works.

    @MilwaukeeD Long time… On point as usual.

  11. mike says:

    > Racine and Oak Creek have their own interests to look out for as well so I’d think they would negotiate the best deal they can get as well

    Sure they will. But I read stories like this

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/78911637.html

    and it sounds to me like Milwaukee is already on its way to screwing this up. Like I said, overplaying their hand.

    > Milwaukee should go after what it thinks is in the best interest of Milwaukee, be it cash, or whatever else they determine is worth the value (transit, or affordable housing regs).

    The #1 best interest of Milwaukee is to get this deal! That’s my whole point. Waukesha isn’t getting bids for something they can just change from year to year like the supplier of copier paper in city hall. This is a major, very very long term deal. If Milwaukee wants to be the center of freshwater tech, they need this deal.

    But Waukesha is not going to make a deal where Milwaukee is going to dictate the % of low-income housing in Waukesha for the next 50 years, or paying for a light rail line that won’t serve it’s residents. There are 2 sides to every deal, Waukesha is going to do what is in THEIR best interest too.

    Still too early to tell how its all going to turn out. I’m just saying, instead of positive pro-active interest from Milwaukee, I already see cockiness and foot-dragging like they’re the only game in town.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @mike “But Waukesha officials prefer to buy water from Milwaukee for cost reasons. ” from that article. To some extent Milwaukee might be the only real option for Waukesha. But anyhow I have no doubt that if a deal is made Milwaukee will be the one making it. Time and time again the burbs try to play the game that they will buy water from Oak Creek or Racine, but in the end more often than not they buy from Milwaukee.

    Generally speaking before the New Berlin deal and this years raising the price of water to create a small dividend, these water deals didn’t impact the city budget at all, so selling water for the sake of selling water isn’t enough.

  13. MilwaukeeD says:

    “All the better if it can generate a little revenue to help lower the tax burden or maybe fix the existing sewer system so we can stop dumping billions of gallons of poop into the lake.”

    You do realize that MMSD covers a much larger area than the City of Milwaukee right? Check out the map on this page: http://v3.mmsd.com/AboutUs.aspx

    And that the Milwaukee Water Works, which would be selling the water, does not run MMSD, which treats the water?

    This is off topic, but when there is a dumping (and they have become pretty rare), they dump a mixture of stormwater and raw sewage from the combined sewer area. Why do they dump just from the combined sewer area? Because it is illegal to dump 100% raw sewage coming in from the non-combined area. The non-combined areas, while sending their raw sewage for treatment, send their stormwater into local waterways, untreated. Often times, stormwater runoff is more contaminated than sewage, because it includes oil, gas, antifreeze and other chemicals that were on the road.

    Why this matters, is that MMSD is not a City of Milwaukee entity or problem. As you can see, it treats sewage from Brookfield, Oak Creek, Germantown, Milwaukee and all points in between.

  14. mike says:

    You don’t need to inform me about combined sewage and MMSD, I know all about it.

    > Why this matters, is that MMSD is not a City of Milwaukee entity or problem.

    Don’t be stupid. The mayor of Milwaukee appoints 7 of the 11 members of MMSD board that runs MMSD. MMSD and Milwaukee are very much tied together. When a sewage dump occurs (accidental or intentional), whose responsible then? This quasi-government non-elected tax collecting authority that answers to no one? Gosh, that’s convenient! Not to mention, the whole reason MMSD has to dump is because of the combined service areas in Milwaukee. And since the sewage dumps go right out into the Milwaukee harbor, I’d say MMSD dumps are definitely a problem for the City of Milwaukee.

    To get a little more back on topic, I don’t really care much about the sewage dumps. They happen all over the country and they aren’t that devastating. I’d rather see the water deal result in new jobs and industry centered in Milwaukee and bonus if we can get some tax relief to encourage further growth in the city.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us