JUST THE facts

The City of Waukesha needs a long-term, sustainable alternative to its existing water supply. The aquifer which has been the City’s primary source of drinking water has become depleted in Southeast Wisconsin. This is due in large part to a natural layer of shale rock that restricts rainwater and snowmelt from recharging the aquifer, and has resulted in elevated levels of radium and other contaminants.
The Waukesha Water Utility is leading the charge, through the Great Water Alliance, to implement a new water supply program for Waukesha. The utility will continue to coordinate with governmental agencies at the state and local levels, the citizens of Waukesha and our partner communities as well as other interested parties.
New pipelines will carry fresh water sourced from Lake Michigan to the City of Waukesha, and then return the same amount – in the form of clean water – using the Root River tributary.
Current plans call for the pipeline to begin at a pumping station near Milwaukee, and travel some 20 miles to Waukesha. A second pipeline will deliver treated water from the Clean Water Plant in Waukesha to an outfall point in Franklin that empties into the Root River.
The Great Water Alliance was effectively born on June 21, 2016, with the unanimous approval of the City of Waukesha’s request to source water from Lake Michigan by the eight governors who make up the Great Lakes Compact Council. Planning and design are currently ongoing, with construction scheduled to begin in 2020 and completion currently slated for 2023.

better water

The history leading up to the Great Water Alliance stretches all the way back to the Paleozoic Era. But don’t worry…we’ll give you the edited version!



Use this interactive timeline to view important milestones along the path to bringing better water to the city of Waukesha and the Great Lakes Basin.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes interim regulations that establish a 5 picocuries* per liter (pCi/L) limit for radium in public drinking water systems.

* A picocurie (pCi) is one-trillionth of a curie. The curie (Ci) is a measurement of radioactivity.

Late 1980s

Waukesha Water Utility (WWU) works to develop a strategy to deal with the long-term impacts of the new radium standards after the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) issues two violations of EPA’s radium standard of 5 pCi/L.

Late 1990s

WWU sampling shows declining groundwater levels are leading to higher concentrations of total dissolved solids and radium.

December 2000

EPA issues the final radonuclides rule retaining the 1976 standards for radium at 5pCi/L.

March 2002

Waukesha studies 14 alternative to identify a sustainable water supply. Those options are narrowed to two, given water quality and environmental or regulatory restrictions: 1) Groundwater Well Supply 2) Great Lakes Water Supply.

December 2003

City of Waukesha enters into a consent order with the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Waukesha County Circuit Court to achieve phased-in compliance with new radium standards.

December 2005

Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) – in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the DNR, and several area water utilities – completes a groundwater simulation model for the region.

December 2008

Congress adopts the Great Lakes Compact and President George W. Bush signs it into law, following adoption by the eight Great Lakes states and prior approval by two Canadian provinces.

April 2010

After years of study and scores of public meetings, the City of Waukesha submits five-volume application for alternative water supply to the DNR for review. In it, Lake Michigan water is determined to be the only sustainable source that protects both the environment and public health.

December 2010

SEWRPC adopts a Regional Water Supply Plan that includes the recommendation that Waukesha apply for Great Lakes water.

July 2011

DNR consults with Native American Tribes and holds informational meetings with the general public to introduce the review process and receive comments on scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).


Waukesha submits supplemental information requested by DNR during application review.

Fall 2013

WWU holds informational meetings in Oak Creek, Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha. DNR accepts public comments on the revised application.

2013 - 2015

Waukesha submits 27 additional technical memoranda to the DNR in order to provide additional information and clarification.

August 2015

DNR holds public hearings on its draft technical review and draft EIS.

January 2016

DNR concurs that Waukesha’s proposal meets the Compact’s criteria and submits application to the Great Lakes states and provinces for regional review.

June 2016

Eight Great Lakes states, meeting as the Compact Council, unanimously approve the Waukesha Application, with conditions that include a smaller service area.

Fall 2016

Waukesha initiates programmatic engineering to develop the new water supply system.

February 2017

Years before required by the terms of approval, Great Water Alliance partners with UW-Parkside and the United States Geological Survey to begin scientific data collection on the Root River.

March 2017

New water supply program officially begins operating as the Great Water Alliance and unveils a robust new website at greatwateralliance.com.


Projected start of pipeline construction.


Projected completion and transition to new water supply. In all, Great Water Alliance will require about six years of permitting, design and construction before coming into service.


As the first community to prove it qualifies for an exception under the Compact’s straddling counties provision, we’re keenly aware of our obligation not only to our neighbors in the area, but to the entire Great Lakes Basin.

We invite you to learn more about this historic document, and how the standards we’ll be living up to will lead to a brighter water future.



The Great Water Alliance will ultimately benefit the citizens of Waukesha for generations to come. But the size and scope of this program will also generate economic, social and environmental benefits for the entire region…beginning today.

DOING IT right, ONCE AND for all.

The Waukesha Water Utility is confident that the Great Water Alliance will become a model for safe and sustainable drinking water projects. It’s a conviction that grows out of the dedication and talent of its team, and a commitment to the idea that public servants are employed, first and foremost, to serve the public.


Myth vs. Fact

The subject of water resource management is often emotionally charged, and the passions it raises can lead to a blurring of the line between myth and fact. We’d like to address some of the common misperceptions that have arisen since Lake Michigan was identified as the only reasonable long term water supply for Waukesha.


Frequently Answered Questions

In case you’re wondering…
here’s the place to start.