Investing in the future
of Waukesha Water

Safe, reliable drinking water is essential to the health of our families and to our local economy. That is why, in 2020, construction began on the infrastructure to provide Waukesha with a new water supply. Our switch to Lake Michigan water by 2023 will assure that city residents and businesses have a water supply that is safe, reliable and sustainable for the long term. That helps ensure that our city is a desirable place to live now and for generations to come.

More than 15 years of study convinced city leaders that we must switch to Lake Michigan water. All ten Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces agreed that using and returning lake water is our only reasonable option. Our current primary groundwater source is severely depleted and has excessive amounts of natural contaminants. Increasing treatment for radium contamination would only be an expensive, short-term Band-Aid. There is no “do nothing” alternative and no cheaper long-term alternative than Lake Michigan water.

Like our city leaders, most residents understand that this investment in our infrastructure is needed. But residents also have questions about what the impacts of that investment will be on our water bills.

The bottom line: rates will increase, but for good reason and for immeasurable benefit.

Your water bill pays the costs to build
and run the infrastructure

Water bills typically contain two parts: water supply charges and wastewater charges. The majority of the costs associated with the water supply are for the pipes, treatment facilities, testing, and people involved with obtaining, treating, and delivering high-quality drinking water. It also covers the costs of constructing, maintaining, and replacing pipes and other infrastructure.

Starting June 1, 2018, Waukesha added a return flow charge to begin to help pay for the costs of building and operating a return flow system, including a 23-mile pipeline, that will restore water back to the Great Lakes Basin. This is a requirement of our approval to switch to a Lake Michigan water supply.

The other half of your water bill is the wastewater charge. That pays for collecting and treating the wastewater you generate and then returning it to the environment as treated, clean water.

Rates for the wastewater and return flow portions of your bill will be increasing on January 1, 2021. Water supply rates will also increase sometime early in 2021, for the first time since December 1, 2017, once approved by state regulators. Estimates for those rates are provided in the table below.

Typical Water Charges for Residential Customers
Water Supply 86 107 36
Return Flow 28 42 14
Wastewater 112 120 40
Total 226 269 90

Rates for a typical residential family will increase to about $269 on quarterly bills. However, we expect to switch to monthly bills for residential customers early in 2021, so the average monthly bill will be about $90. Most people prefer monthly bills, which also would give you more timely information about your own water use.

In order to further clarify exactly what Waukesha citizens are paying for, we’ve differentiated between your total water and return flow charges and your wastewater charges. Your water bill will still be paid in a singular payment combining both charges.

  1. Your total water and return flow charges pay for the maintenance and replacement of existing water infrastructure and the construction of the Great Lakes Water project.
  2. Your wastewater utility charges pay for the operations, maintenance and replacement of existing wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure.
Water Bill - top
Water Bill - bottom
Download an example of a water bill (PDF)

The fact is, Waukesha’s rates will be higher when the project is complete, but these investments will result in a reliable and sustainable water supply which will make our city an even better place to live.

You should also know that Lake Michigan water will be nearly 70% softer than our current water supply. That will allow Waukesha residents to save money on salt used in water softeners. It will also help protect our waterways, because chlorides in salt are toxic to the fish and animals that live in our rivers.

City and Waukesha Water Utility officials are doing all they can to help lessen possible increases. For instance, the City of Waukesha worked with the Federal Government, including our Congressmen and Senators, to receive low cost financing that will reduce interest costs by about $1 million per year. Our local state legislators also helped with improvements in terms for state infrastructure loans. Additionally, our agreement to purchase water from the City of Milwaukee has been estimated to save the average residential ratepayer about $224 per year, compared to other suppliers.

It is important to remember that water or wastewater projects are not funded with property tax dollars; users pay the costs.

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Great Water Alliance welcomes your thoughts and opinions as we work towards improved water quality in the City of Waukesha, the Root River, and the Lake Michigan Basin.

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