Waukesha, WI - An Unprecedented Request to Divert Water from the Great Lakes Basin

From AquaPedia Case Study Database
Jump to: navigation, search
{{#var: location map}}

Case Description
Loading map...
Geolocation: 43° 0' 42.0422", -88° 13' 53.3327"
Climate Descriptors Continental (Köppen D-type)
Predominent Land Use Descriptors industrial use, urban, urban- high density
Important Uses of Water Domestic/Urban Supply, Industry - consumptive use


The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin has been recognized as an invaluable resource for the United States and Canada. The network of lakes and rivers constitutes 84% of North America’s fresh surface water, and over 20% of the world’s fresh surface water supply.[1] The management of the basin is a complex interaction of two nations, eight states, two provinces, and hundreds of First Nation, Tribal, and municipal authorities. The United States and Canada signed the Boundary Waters Treaty in 1909 to address concerns regarding water quality and water quantity.[2] Since the signing of this treaty, the two nations have been encouraging public involvement to help dictate the governance of the basin. Numerous agreements have been signed to ensure the responsible use and conservation of this great resource. In December 2008 the Great Lakes Compact was passed into U.S. federal law banning the transfer of Great Lakes water from leaving the basin. [3]

The city of Waukesha, WI has become the first community located fully outside the basin to apply for an exemption to this water diversion ban. Waukesha currently draws its public water supply from a combination of deep and shallow aquifers. The groundwater from the deep aquifer contains radium, which is a carcinogen. The local water utility must mix the two sources to provide a product that can meet the EPA’s standards. The city has until 2018 to meet a stricter set of standards. It is Waukesha’s intention to purchase Lake Michigan water from the nearby community of Oak Creek and discharge wastewater to Root River, which will flow back into Lake Michigan. The case has caught the attention of residents all around the basin living in both countries.[4] The Wisconsin DNR is currently in the process of reviewing Waukesha’s water diversion application. If approved, the application will go on to be reviewed by eight U.S. Governors and two Canadian Premiers. The final decision of this case will serve as an example for how the Great Lakes Compact will be implemented.[5]

Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework

General Facts about the Great Lakes Basin

Great Lakes Overview.jpeg
  • Great Lakes Basin shared between two countries: eight states, two provinces, and hundreds of First Nation and Tribal governments [6]
  • The basin is home to approximately 34 million people [6]
  • Consists of five lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario [6]
  • Largest system of fresh surface water in the world [6]
  • 21% of the planet’s fresh surface water [6]
  • 84% of North American fresh surface water [6]
  • 17,549 km of coastlines < ref name = “GLIN Facts”> [13], GLIN. Great Lakes Information Network. Retrieved May 04, 2014, from Great Lakes Facts and Figures. </ref>

Waukesha, WI is Located Outside of the Great Lakes Basin

Waukesha GL.jpg

The City of Waukesha, WI is located fully outside of Lake Michigan’s basin. However, it is located within a “straddling county” of the basin. It is the first town, located outside of the basin, to apply for an exemption from the water diversion ban, which became U.S. federal law in 2008. Waukesha currently draws its water supply from a system of aquifers that contain radium (a carcinogen). [6] The adjacent city of New Berlin is located partly within the basin, and has already received an exemption from the ban. [6] The conditions for meeting the exemption were less stringent for New Berlin because they are a “straddling community.” [6]

U.S. Straddling Counties of the Basin

US Straddling Counties.png

The decision made with regards to Waukesha’s water diversion application will set a precedent for many other communities throughout the United States and Canada. The areas shown in yellow are straddling counties of the Great Lakes Basin. The circled areas show locations where proposals for future water diversions are beginning. [6] The decision made with regards to Waukesha’s water diversion application will set a precedent for many other communities throughout the United States and Canada.

Pipelines Needed for Project Implementation

Root River Pipeline.jpg

If Waukesha’s application for water diversion is approved, the city will need to build potable water and wastewater pipelines to Oak Creek. Waukesha would purchase treated, potable water from Oak Creek Water Utility and distribute that water to its citizen. Waukesha would then treat the wastewater, and discharge to Root River so that the water will flow back into Lake Michigan. [6] Certain people believe that the already polluted Root River should not receive any additional wastewater.[7] Others claim that the added low of the wastewater into Root River would assist the recovery of the environment and the stream’s aquatic life. [6]

Legal Context of Water Diversion

In December 2008 the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact was passed into U.S. federal and state law. The Compact prohibited the transfer of Great Lakes water out of the basin for any use. However, the agreement provides water diversion exceptions for “straddling communities” and communities within a “straddling county.” There are multiple conditions set forth that a community in a “straddling county” must meet to be eligible to receive an exemption from the water diversion ban. Such conditions are:

(3.a) 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; (3.b) The Proposal meets the Exception Standard, maximizing the portion of water returned to the Source Watershed as Basin Water and minimizing the surface water or groundwater from outside the Basin; (3.c) The Proposal shall be subject to management and regulation by the Originating Party, regardless of its size; (3.d) There is no reasonable water supply alternative within the basin in which the community is located, including conservation of existing water supplies; (3.e) Caution shall be used in determining whether or not the Proposal meets the conditions for this Exception. This Exception should not be authorized unless it can be shown that it will not endanger the integrity of the Basin Ecosystem; [6]

A community within a straddling county must meet all of the conditions specified in the compact. When an application for water diversion is filed it is the responsibility of the Originating Party (for the case of the Waukesha, the Originating Party is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) to decide if the application meets all of the conditions listed in the Compact. If approved by the Originating Party, the application is sent on to the Regional Body (8 U.S. Governors and 2 Canadian Premiers) to review the case and prepare a declaration of findings. The Council (8 U.S. Governors) then reviews the application while considering the findings of the Regional Body. An approval for the out-of-basin water diversion application is contingent upon the unanimous support of the Council (the governors of all eight states that the basin is located within). [6]

Legally this process requires stakeholder participation in the form of meetings with the American Indian Tribes and Bands, as well as public hearings and comment periods. The Wisconsin DNR has already prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scope, which has been provided to the public for comment. The DNR addressed the concerns of the public and is currently reviewing the application in detail. In the undetermined future, the Wisconsin DNR will release a draft version of a technical review, EIS, and decision. They will then gain public input, revise the documents and release a final version of the technical review, EIS, and decision. At this stage in the process, it appears that Waukesha and the Wisconsin DNR have been following through with proper legal and governmental step procedures. [6]

With such established procedures in place, this application process will likely continue in a politically acceptable fashion. However, the political validity of the final decision will be up for interpretation. The current mayor of Waukesha believes that the integrity of the Compact relies of the approval of Waukesha’s rightful application.

Social and Cultural Context

The U.S. and Canadian governments have a long history of negotiation and stakeholder involvement around the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin. The communities within the basin have shown that they value this great resource and want to protect it. [6] With over a century of negotiations, the framework that governs the basin now includes the central, regional, municipal, and tribal governments. The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement acknowledges the treaty rights of aboriginal people in both the U.S. and Canada, and specifically states that the agreement is “not intended to abrogate or derogate” from the rights of aboriginal peoples. [6] The Wisconsin DNR has recognized the need to discuss the Waukesha water diversion with the American Indian Tribes and Bands of Wisconsin. The DNR has previously held meetings with the Wisconsin Indian Tribes and has future meetings planned. The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission has stated a desire to be considered in the EIS, which the DNR has honored. [6] Although, the American Indian Tribes and Bands are a stakeholder in this water project, it appears that they play a minor role.

The social aspect of this case study that is most important and prevalent is the health of the residents of Waukesha. Currently, the city of Waukesha has no choice but to knowingly provide its citizens with water traced by radium. The water utility claims to meet EPA radium standards 80% of the time, which puts the full year calculated average below acceptable levels. The city has until 2018 to meet more stringent standards.[6] As Waukesha’s application moves forward, the contaminated drinking water source that the city is currently using will need to be considered by the DNR, environmental groups, and eventually the Regional Body and Council. The rejection of such an application may be considered as message that these other stakeholders do not care for the livelihoods of the people of Waukesha. These stakeholders will scrutinize if Waukesha has other reasonable alternatives for water sources within their own basin, and if the demand is justified. The people of Waukesha feel they have a right to this valuable water source located only miles away. The support of nearby communities within the basin is a complicated topic. If adjacent communities do not support Waukesha’s application, it may indicate that they do not care for their neighbors’ health. If they do support Waukesha, then they may be helping to set a precedent for communities around the basin to receive additional exemptions, which may compromise the Compact.

Waukesha projects that by 2050 there will be a 36% population growth and a 45% increase in average daily water demand. This will include the introduction of new industry that will need water. The city claims that the water is essential to economic growth of the community. [6] Many groups seem to want to support Waukesha, but believe that the high demand (10.1 MGD) is too much and Lake Michigan water should be used out of necessity, not to spur on “unchecked” growth.[8] The Wisconsin DNR has responded to Waukesha’s request stating that the water demand has no solid evidence for justification. Typically, when projecting future water demand a city will estimate from past uses. Waukesha claims that the September 11 attacks and the recession of 2008/09 hurt the industry of the city and it would not be appropriate to base projections off past uses. The Wisconsin DNR informed Waukesha that future industrial customers would need a demand of 6 times the current customer in order to meet the water use they required. [6] Additionally, Waukesha aims to expand their water distribution network by 17 square miles, and they have not shown that these other areas do not have their own adequate water resource. [6] Therefore, the many stakeholders involved in this process are weary of Waukesha’s application because it appears that the city may be trying to take advantage of Lake Michigan water for their own social and economic gain. It currently appears that the DNR and environmental groups are not opposed to supporting the water diversion; however, they want the application to be sufficiently justified.

The people of Waukesha clearly desire and deserve clean water. The Waukesha Water Utility has informed that the water they currently distribute to customers is safe to drink. However, they will not be within the EPA drinking water compliance for radium standards in 2018 using their current water sources. The city previously stated possible water alternatives to be the Fox River, Rock River, and Lake Michigan.[6] Currently, the city has invested all their energy in pursuing Lake Michigan water. Early in 2014, Waukesha elected a new mayor that has legal experience locating wells outside of municipality limits. The mayor has claimed that he does not intend to alter the water diversion application in any way. [9]

Timeline - Great Lakes Background

Year Event
1909 U.S. and Canada sign the Boundary Waters Treaty with concern for water quantity and quality issues. The treaty results in the creation of the International Joint Commission (IJC) that will help to prevent and resolve disputes between the nations. It also sets a foundation for the beginnings of stakeholder involvement around the Great Lakes. Any “use, obstruction, or diversion” that IJC reviews must be made public knowledge and hearings shall be held where all may be heard with respect. [10]
1955 Great Lakes Basin Compact signed amongst the eight U.S. states. The Great Lakes Commission is established to promote responsible development and use of the basin waters. [11]
1964 The U.S. and Canadian governments request that IJC prepare a report detailing if the lakes are polluted, and if so, what restoration efforts are necessary. IJC responds by informing the two nations that their current legal framework cannot deal with the problem. There interaction of federal, state, provincial, and local governments is too complex.[6]
1969 The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catches on fire (as it had many times in the past) when a passing train creates sparks that hit oil covered debris. The state of river health throughout the U.S. is questioned thanks to media coverage of the event. [6] River pollution concerns are coupled with Lake Erie having been declared “dead.” [6]
1972 The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) is signed by the U.S. and Canadian governments. The agreement calls for greater public involvement regarding the health of the lakes. [6]

The U.S. passes the Clean Water [6]

1976 EPA sets standards for radium levels of drinking water. [6]
1978 The U.S. and Canada revisit and amend the GLWQA, enacting stricter regulations surrounding the discharge of pollutants. [6]
1982 Great Lakes United (GLU) is formed to help bring together citizens from all around the basin. Informs public that the GLWQA will be revisited in 1987, and holds series of hearings to gauge public opinion on desired amendments. [6]

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ASACE) performs a study regarding the recharge of the Ogallala Aquifer (located in the U.S. Great Plains) with water from the Great Lakes. Eventually decide not to move forward with proposal given their findings. [6]

1985 Great Lakes Charter is signed by the eight U.S. Governors and two Canadian Premiers. It is a “good-faith agreement” to notify and consult one another before new diversions or uses of certain volumes. [6]
1986 The U.S. passes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), requiring the approval of all governors before any new out-of-basin (Senate changed from “out-of-state”) diversion occurs, however, no review process is provided. The act also prohibits any federal agency from performing a study that involves the transfer of Great Lakes water out of the basin, no matter the use. This is partly in response to the USACE study to regenerate the Ogallala Aquifer. [6]
1987 GLU prepares a report detailing concerns that citizens expressed in public hearings, and presents to the U.S. and Canadian governments. The nations invite five GLU representatives to have observer status during the GLWQA amendment negotiations. [6]

GLWQA amendments specify 43 Areas of Concern (AOC) and enacted the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) process, which relies on local communities to be the driving force for cleaning up Great Lakes waters. The amendments also call for Lakewide Management Plans (LaMP) which focuses on whole-lake health. [6]

1998 The Ontario based NOVA Group requests to withdrawal and ship 160 million gallons of water from Lake Superior per year to sell in Asia. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment approves the request without consulting U.S. stakeholders because the provisions do not violate the Great Lakes Charter or the WRDA signed in the 1980’s. The requested diversions were smaller than what was specified in either agreement. [6]

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment overturns their previous approval of NOVA Group’s request to ship water to Asia following strong objections from U.S. governors and the public. [6]

1999 The U.S. and Canadian governments request that IJC prepare a report detailing the effect of diversions from boundary waters. Great Lakes Protection Fund issues “Lochhead” report pointing out the lack of standard protocol used by governors and premiers to apply the WRDA. The governors and premiers issue a joint statement committing them to update legislation regarding the protection and conservation of the basin.[6]

The Great Lakes Commission (established in 1955 by the eight U.S. States) offers associate membership to the both Canadian provinces.[6]

2000 The IJC reports to the U.S and Canada that additional standards and procedures must be put in place to manage new users and increases for current users.[6]

The WRDA is amended to prevent Great Lakes water from exportation.[6]

2001 The Great Lakes Charter Annex 2001 is signed by all governors and premiers, which calls for more binding laws for withdrawals and an increase in public participation.[6]

Governors and premiers appoint representatives to the Water Management Working Group as well as the following teams: Tribes/First Nations, Legal, Drafting. Regional stakeholders are identified and will serve on the Advisory Committee to provide feedback to the Working Group as they focus on implementing the solutions called for in Annex 2001.[6]

2004 The Working Group releases the first draft of “Annex 2001 Implementing Arguments.” A 90-day comment period is provided as well as regional meetings in Chicago and Toronto in addition to individual state and provincial meetings. The draft receives over 10,000 comments in the 90-day period.[6]
2005 The revised draft of Annex 2001 Implementing Arguments is released for public comment over a 60-day period.[6]

The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement is signed by all eight governors and two premiers.[6] The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is recognized by all eight U.S. governors and sent to state and federal legislature.[6]

2008 The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is approved by U.S. Congress and by President Bush. The legal ban on the diversion of Great Lakes water out the basin begins.[6]

The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Council, which consists of all eight U.S. governors, will oversee the implementation of the Compact.[6]

2009 As outlined in the Compact, states must report all current water use and users to specify “baseline” as well as “grandfathered” users. A new framework of water management programs will govern new users and increases of “grandfathered” users. [6]

Timeline - Waukesha, WI Water Diversion Application

Date Event
January 2010 Waukesha officials release draft application to the public. The request is 18.5 MGD of Lake Michigan water that will be returned to the lake via Underwood Creek. [6]
May 2010 Waukesha, WI submits a diversion application requesting 10.9 MGD from Lake Michigan. This is the first proposal of its kind given that Waukesha is a community in a “straddling county” [6]
June 2010 Wisconsin DNR tells Waukesha that the application lacks sufficient details. [6]
July 2010 Waukesha’s Common Council that the city does not plan to submit further details[6]
September 2010 Wisconsin DNR tells Waukesha that application is still incomplete[6]
April 2011 Waukesha submits a supplement to the application [6]
July 2011 Wisconsin DNR meets with American Indian Tribes and Bands to discuss project and holds three public hearings to inform public of project and gather comments, and makes public the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) opening up to 30-comment period.[6]
October 2011 Wisconsin DNR release the comment summary and responses[6]
July 2013 Environmental groups (Waukesha County Environmental Action League) ask that Wisconsin DNR require Waukesha to submit an entirely new proposal because of significant changes to the original. [6]
October 2013 Waukesha submits an updated water diversion application with new water supplier, decreased use, and new water discharge location. [6]
November 2013 As requested by the DNR, Waukesha holds several public meetings to distribute information and answer questions. [6]
December 2013 The 45-day public comment period closes. DNR responds to Waukesha by telling them that they fail to justify certain requests regarding water demand. [6]

Many groups publicly state that Wisconsin DNR should not approve application [6]

March 2014 Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. says, “Today’s projects may make sense but 100 of them won’t.” Referring to the precedent that this case is going to set.[6]
April 2014 New Waukesha mayor elected and says he has no plans to change the proposal. He further states that “… if the governors of the other states refuse to approve an application that meets the conditions, arguably it can put the entire compact in jeopardy.” [12]

Timeline - Path Forward for Diversion Application

Date Event
Ongoing Wisconsin DNR is preparing drafts of technical review, EIS and decision[6]
 ???? DNR will release draft documents, consult with American Indian Tribes and Bands once again, hold public hearings, and collect comments during a 45-day comment period[6]
 ???? DNR release final technical review and EIS for 30-day comment period, and announce final decision on the Waukesha water diversion application [6]
 ???? If application is approved, the Regional Body (eight governors, two premiers) will hold informational hearing in Waukesha. The Regional Body will then prepare a declaration of findings within 90 days[6]
 ???? Regional Body findings will be used by Council (eight governors) to take vote on if project should move forward. Approval must be unanimous[6]
 ???? If approved, the proposal returns to the DNR for final decision, and issuance of permits[6]

Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight

What is an ASI?

Individuals may add their own Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight (ASI) to a case. ASI sub-articles are protected, so that each contributor retains authorship and control of their own content. Edit the case to add your own ASI.

Learn more

No ASI articles have been added yet for this case

  1. ^ [1], EPA. (2012). Great Lakes: Basic Information. Retrieved May 02, 2014.
  2. ^ [2], Newton, J. T. (2006). International Waters Learning Exchange & Resource Network. Retrieved March 2014.
  3. ^ [3], CGLG. (n.d.). Council of Great Lakes Governors. Retrieved April 2014, from Great Lakes Water Management.
  4. ^ [4], Milwaukee River Keeper. (n.d.). Waukesha Diversion. Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  5. ^ [5], WDNR. (n.d.). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from Waukesha Diversion Application.
  6. ^ 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 6.23 6.24 6.25 6.26 6.27 6.28 6.29 6.30 6.31 6.32 6.33 6.34 6.35 6.36 6.37 6.38 6.39 6.40 6.41 6.42 6.43 6.44 6.45 6.46 6.47 6.48 6.49 6.50 6.51 6.52 6.53 6.54 6.55 6.56 6.57 6.58 6.59 6.60 6.61 6.62 6.63 6.64 6.65 6.66 6.67 6.68 6.69 6.70 [6], GLG. (2005, December 13). Council of Great Lakes Governors. Retrieved March 2014, from Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.
  7. ^ [7], Milwaukee River Keeper. (n.d.). Waukesha Diversion. Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  8. ^ [8], Milwaukee River Keeper. Milwaukee River Keeper. Retrieved May 2014, from Waukesha Water Diversion .
  9. ^ [9], Dill, M. (2014, April 14). BizTimes: Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin Business News. Retrieved May 2014, from Waukesha Water Plans to Move Forward with New Mayor.
  10. ^ [10], Newton, J. T. (2006). International Waters Learning Exchange & Resource Network. Retrieved March 2014.
  11. ^ [11], GLC. (n.d.). Great Lakes Commission. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
  12. ^ [12], Dill, M. (2014, April 14). BizTimes: Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin Business News. Retrieved May 2014, from Waukesha Water Plans to Move Forward with New Mayor.

Facts about "Waukesha, WI - An Unprecedented Request to Divert Water from the Great Lakes Basin"RDF feed
ClimateContinental (Köppen D-type) +
Geolocation43° 0' 42.0422", -88° 13' 53.3327"Latitude: 43.0116784
Longitude: -88.2314813
Land Useindustrial use +, urban + and urban- high density +
Water UseDomestic/Urban Supply + and Industry - consumptive use +