Waukesha searching for new water source

Posted at 7:04 AM, Feb 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-17 13:35:44-05

WAUKESHA -- The City of Waukesha is making its pitch to use Lake Michigan for its drinking water supply to visitors from the Great Lakes States and Provinces.

“I’m glad we’re at this point, finally,” said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.

Reilly said the city has been studying the use of Lake Michigan water for more than 10 years. He said the current drinking water supply is safe, but not sustainable.

Reilly said a shallow aquifer being used to provide drinking water in Waukesha is drying up. He said a deeper aquifer, which is also used for drinking water, is contaminated with naturally-occurring radium.

Reilly said the city currently mixes water generated from the two aquifers to comply with EPA requirements.

“We know we can't continue that, because amount of radium coming in from deep wells continues to go up,” the mayor said.

On Wednesday, Waukesha hosted visitors representing all of the Great Lakes States, as well as the Great Lakes Provinces of Quebec and Ontario, Canada. They toured the city’s wells and water facilities.

Since Waukesha sits outside of the Great Lakes Basin, it requires unanimous permission from the governors of all the Great Lakes States to tap into Lake Michigan.

To gain approval, the city must demonstrate that it has no other reasonable, alternative drinking water supply and that it can replace all water taken out with properly-treated waste water.

Reilly said he feels Waukesha has met both thresholds, which representatives from the Great Lakes States said are meant to protect the lakes’ water supply.

“We don’t want water taken out and sent to other parts of the world, or even other parts of the country,” said Julie Ekman, Vice Chair of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council.

Cheryl Nenn, with the organization Milwaukee Riverkeeper, said she doesn’t believe Waukesha has exhausted all of its options.

Nenn said she thinks the city should not get approval to use Lake Michigan water.

“The Great Lakes, although they’re vast, are not infinite,” Nenn said. “We know that only one percent of the Great Lakes are renewed every year through rain and snow melt.”

Nenn said Waukesha should consider removing the radium from its water supply through treatment, or else drill more wells into its shallow aquifer.

But Reilly said drilling more shallow wells could damage the community’s wetlands by decreasing the water flowing to them.

Reilly said the Wisconsin DNR has already approved Waukesha’s proposal and recommended that it pass to the rest of the Great Lakes States. He said he expects a decision on the plan by June.