Water bills to rise in Waukesha after historic water vote

The city has a new water source.
Posted at 6:33 AM, Jun 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-22 07:38:39-04

A historic vote on Tuesday gave Waukesha permission to get its water from the Great Lakes. 

The city became the first community in the country, outside the Great Lakes Drainage Basin, to get water from one of the Great Lakes. However, this still comes with a hefty price for homeowners.

Waukesha's own water source is contaminated with radium, a radioactive metal. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the city until 2018 to come up with a fix. 

"Obviously I'm very very happy. This is something the city of Waukesha has worked on for a very very long time," said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.

The vote, which had to be approved by a council representing the eight Great Lakes states, was something a lot of Waukesha families have been waiting for. 

Jackie Dernek has a little girl and a baby on the way. Shes said her family has never drank the tap water in Waukesha.

"Just because it has the radium in it, we just wanted to be safe," Dernek said.

City officials said the water is safe to drink right now, but the EPA said it's not over the long term.

With the vote, the city will now buy Lake Michigan water from Oak Creek, which will pipeline the water west. Waukesha will then use the water, treat it and send it back through Racine. The infrastructure to do all that will cost more than $200 million. The city hopes to get grants and low-interest lows, but homeowners will still pay a large chunk.

"The rates are going to double or triple depending on how the funding works out," said Dan Duchniak, the general manager of Waukesha Water Utility.

Right now, the average homeowner pays $320 a year for water. At minimum, that will be that cost will increase to more than $600 or even close to $1,000 per year.

"It will be expensive," said resident Deepa Seralathan.

"I'm on limited income, like everybody," said resident Lauren Langsford.

"Budget for it, it's not like we have a lot of control over it," Dernek said.

City officials said this solution is the best one for their community.  

"It means we are going to have a safe and reliable drinking water supply for generations to come," Duchniak said. "The water issue for the Waukesha water utility is resolved for the long term."

City officials said the water bill increase will likely come in the next four to five years.