Waukesha Water Utility: Draft Great Lakes Agreement Includes Loophole for Groundwater

For more information, contact:
Daniel Duchniak (262) 521-5272, extension 518.

Current version allows new and increased diversions of groundwater, Waukesha says

A draft agreement among states to protect Great Lakes Water includes a loophole that would allow new and increased diversions of Great Lakes groundwater, according to comments submitted today by Waukesha Mayor Carol Lombardi and Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak.

Waukesha is in one of the few areas where the Great Lakes groundwater divide is further from the Lakes than the surface water divide. However, restrictions in the draft on the use of Great Lakes water only apply to water obtained within the surface water divide.

“We urge that the draft Agreements be revised to recognize the scientific fact that areas beyond the surface water divide but within the groundwater divide are part of the Great Lakes Basin,” according to the Waukesha letter to the Council of Great Lakes Governors. “Doing so will close a loophole that would allow unlimited new or increased withdrawals and diversions of Great Lakes groundwater from those areas.”

Waukesha said including Great Lakes groundwater in the definition of Great Lakes Basin would allow it to continue using either Great Lakes groundwater or surface water without triggering a requirement in the Agreement to return the water to the Great Lakes. But including groundwater in the Annex also “shuts the door on new and increased diversions of groundwater,” Waukesha officials said. Recognizing the science of the groundwater divide “would prevent all new or increased uses of Great Lakes groundwater or surface water unless it is returned.”

If the draft is not changed to include groundwater, a switch from Lake Michigan groundwater to Lake Michigan surface by Waukesha would cause significant local environmental harm. “The return flow requirement – triggered by the failure to recognize Waukesha’s current use of Great Lakes water – could devastate a major Wisconsin wetland area. The Fox River, along with the 4,600-acre Vernon Marsh in southern Waukesha County, depends on Waukesha’s wastewater. On August 1, 71% of the river’s water flow as it entered the Vernon Marsh was wastewater discharge. Requiring this water to be piped to Lake Michigan instead would cause significant harm to the Vernon Marsh by limiting the water available to the wildlife and ecosystems of the marsh,” the letter says.

Waukesha is willing to cap its use of Great Lakes water at current capacities. “Waukesha has already reduced its water use by 25% since 1988, even with a 17% increase in population. We plan to reduce per capita water use by another 20% by 2020. Currently, we are developing a comprehensive water conservation and protection plan,” the letter says.

“We will protect water during every step of the water cycle, from rainfall and snow melt to the groundwater that recharges our lakes, streams and rivers. Waukesha is developing a comprehensive plan of stormwater management, sourcewater protection and planning and zoning changes to protect and replenish water supplies,” the city said. “With regional cooperation, we feel we can create a model for others to protect, conserve and restore the Great Lakes for many generations to come.”