Agency Seeks More Thorough Review of Alternatives to Diversion

MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) returned Waukesha’s application to divert water out of Lake Michigan under the Great Lakes Compact Wednesday, citing deficiencies in the application’s review of alternatives to Great Lakes water.

“Waukesha’s application represents the first full-fledged application to divert water from the Great Lakes under the Great Lakes Compact, and thus will set an important international precedent,” said Melissa Malott, attorney and water program director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “The future of the Great Lakes Compact may rest in the strength of Waukesha’s diversion application, and we applaud the DNR for recognizing the monumental importance of ensuring this is a thorough and complete application.”

The Great Lakes Compact allows communities outside of the Great Lakes Basin to divert water from the Great Lakes only when they meet certain requirements including having no reasonable alternative water supply.

The Waukesha area’s historical overuse of groundwater resources resulted in one of the nation’s greatest groundwater drawdowns. This excessive drawdown led to groundwater quality problems, specifically an increased occurrence of radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element that is carcinogenic. The radium contamination of groundwater prompted Waukesha to apply for a permit to divert water from Lake Michigan under the Great Lakes Compact.

In a letter addressed to Waukesha’s mayor from DNR Secretary Matt Frank Wednesday, the DNR returned the application to the municipality, asking the city to complete a required review of alternatives to Great Lakes water diversion.

“Through preliminary discussions with representatives for the City it was suggested to us that Great Lakes water was the only viable option for a sustainable water supply, however, subsequent to the submittal of the application, it has been [publicly] discussed that the City is continuing to examine alternatives to Great Lakes water and is actively considering other sources of [water],” read the letter. “One of the key requirements of the Compact for approving an application for a diversion is demonstrating that there is no reasonable water supply alternative.”

“Under the Compact Waukesha must analyze alternatives to diversion such as water conservation, other sources of water, radium treatment, or any combination thereof,” said Malott. “By returning Waukesha’s diversion application, the Wisconsin DNR is setting an important precedent that communities across the region must seriously examine alternatives before diverting water from our magnificent Great Lakes.”