Myth vs. Fact & FAQ2022-11-22T16:28:41-06:00

Myth vs. Fact & FAQ

Waukesha’s application to borrow water from the Great Lakes was thoroughly vetted and firmly rooted in science. Still, the topic of drinking water can be emotionally charged, and the passions it arouses can lead to a blurring of a line between myth and fact. In the section below, Waukesha Water Utility addresses some of the common misperceptions that have arisen about the new water supply program, which has been formally named the Great Water Alliance™.

Myth vs. Fact

MYTH: Waukesha's use of Great Lakes water will be harmful to the Great Lakes.

FACT – The Great Water Alliance will result in the withdrawal of less than 1/1,000,000th of 1% of Great Lakes water per day. This is equal to the volume which evaporates from the Great Lakes, on average, every seven seconds. Most importantly, the same amount borrowed will be treated and returned to Lake Michigan as treated, clean water, ensuring no impact on lake levels or water quality.

MYTH: The new program’s return flow will damage the Root River.

FACT – Waukesha’s level of treatment is matched by only a handful of municipalities in the state. The clean water that Waukesha returns to the Root River in Franklin will be higher in quality and have stricter permit limits than existing area wastewater currently being discharged into it and other rivers. The Great Water Alliance will result in a net improvement of water quality in the Root River, and will achieve an increase in base flow volume that has been sought for more than 50 years.

In addition to expanding the amount of river habitat and aiding the Root River Steelhead egg collection facility, the Great Water Alliance will improve overall fishing and recreation opportunities on this important Lake Michigan tributary.

MYTH: Approval of Waukesha's request sets a precedent for Great Lakes water to be sent to communities in California or other far-away places.

FACTThe Great Lakes Compact, an agreement between the Great Lakes states that governs water-use decisions, prohibits Great Lakes water from going beyond the boundary of counties that straddle the Great Lakes Basin divide. The City of Waukesha is one of a very small number of communities that are likely to ever meet the criteria necessary to borrow Great Lakes water.

MYTH: Waukesha can simply continue to rely on groundwater and does not really need Great Lakes Water.

FACT – The deep aquifer used by Waukesha and other communities in SE Wisconsin and NE Illinois is severely depleted, due to a combination of over-pumping and a natural formation (a thick layer of shale rock) that restricts recharge of the aquifer from rain and snowmelt. Continued use of this aquifer is not sustainable for the long term. The aquifer also has high levels of naturally occurring radium that exceed federal health standards.

MYTH: Waukesha could have avoided the need for Lake Michigan water with more conservation.

FACT – Waukesha has been a leader in water conservation, and is required by the terms of our approved application to continue efforts in the future. The city's water conservation plan includes a daytime ban on sprinkling, a rate structure that incentivizes conservation, and the first toilet rebate program in the state. They are ahead of schedule on our goal to achieve significant, measurable water savings of 10%, through conservation, by 2050.

Conservation alone cannot meet our community's need for a long-term alternative to the depleted aquifer.

MYTH: The purpose of Waukesha's New Water Supply Program is to promote growth.

FACT – Waukesha is already developed, and will see only very limited population growth in the coming decades. Less than 3% of the approved service area is outside the city limits, including 26 acres in Pewaukee that are already served by the city, as well as town “islands” — also currently served — that are surrounded by the city. Waukesha needs a new water supply to sustainably meet the needs of existing residents, not to support additional growth.

MYTH: This approval opens the door to hundreds or thousands of additional communities seeking water from the Great Lakes Basin.

FACT – Very few communities are even eligible to apply for diversions under the Great Lakes Compact, and even fewer are likely to do so. The Compact bans the diversion of water to any community that is outside the basin, unless it or the county in which it sits straddles the subcontinental divide. They must also prove that no reasonable alternative exists. For the small number of communities that do meet these criteria, the Waukesha application sets a strong precedent for protecting public health and the environment.

MYTH: The Compact states that the Great Lakes must be the "last resort" for communities that qualify for an exception.

FACTThe Compact says a community within a county that straddles the Great Lakes Basin, like Waukesha, can be approved for Great Lakes water if it has no reasonable water supply alternative.

Years of analysis by the City of Waukesha, regional planners, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources led to the consideration of 14 water sources, with extensive examination of six water supply alternatives. In the unanimous opinion of the ten Great Lakes states and provinces that reviewed Waukesha’s application, “none of the evaluated alternatives were found to be reliable sources for a long-term, dependable, and sustainable public water supply.”

MYTH: It’s unusual for a municipality to discharge to a river.

FACT – About 473 — or 94% — of the approximately 500 municipal wastewater treatment plants in Wisconsin flow into rivers.

Of those that do not, 22 flow directly to the Great Lakes and 8 flow directly to inland lakes. Federal and state regulations protect water quality and communities that are downstream from municipal discharges. (In fact, Waukesha itself is currently the beneficiary of such protections, as two municipalities discharge into the Fox River upstream of the city.) Only a handful of communities in Wisconsin have treatment processes as advanced as those at Waukesha’s Clean Water Plant, thus ensuring that return flow into the Root River will meet or exceed all permit limits.

MYTH: The deep aquifer is recharging, and has risen enough to be a sustainable water supply for Waukesha.

FACT – While groundwater levels have recently shown a short-term rise, area communities withdraw water at a faster rate than the aquifer recharges.

The historic long-term trend shows consistent depletion of the deep aquifer over time, despite temporary rises in the groundwater levels due in part to reduced demand and the decision by some communities to switch their supply to surface water or the shallow aquifer. The water level has dropped more than 350 feet over time, and the drawdown reduces flow to area lakes, streams and wetlands. A significant reversal of this long-term trend is not expected until Waukesha begins accessing its new Lake Michigan water supply.

Frequently Answered Questions

What does the Great Water Alliance construction project include?2020-05-14T14:19:43-05:00

A: The project includes the construction of a supply pipeline from Milwaukee to Waukesha, a return pipeline to bring treated water back to the Lake Michigan watershed, two booster pumping stations, two other pumping stations, two concrete reservoirs, and an outfall facility on the Root River.

Where can I learn more about GWA?2020-10-12T16:51:58-05:00

A: The best place to find information is right here on our website. You can also subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter to get program updates sent directly to your inbox.

Another way to keep up to date with the program is by following us on Facebook (@GWASocial), Twitter (@GWA_Social), and YouTube (Great Water Alliance).

Why is there construction in my neighborhood?2020-05-14T14:23:10-05:00

A: After thorough research of multiple routes and several public outreach meetings, a preferred route was selected based on the feasibility of construction and cost. This route also minimizes impacts on the public right-of-way, minimizes environmental impacts, and maintains steady traffic flow. Visit the preferred route section of the website to track construction in your neighborhood.

What can I expect to see during construction?2020-05-14T14:23:33-05:00

A: The work zone will move as the pipeline is constructed and installed. Basically, a trench is dug, the pipe is installed, the trench is backfilled, and the road is restored. Heavy construction equipment like excavators and trucks will be involved. In some locations, specialized tunneling equipment will be used to minimize traffic and environmental impact.

How much of the road will be closed at any given time?2020-05-14T14:23:56-05:00

A: Segments of roadway will be closed throughout the construction process for the safety of the public and the construction crews, though local access for residents and businesses will be maintained at all times. Roads will be closed in sections for a few weeks to a few months to allow for efficient construction and safety while minimizing impacts on the area.

What is the construction schedule?2020-05-14T14:24:32-05:00

A: Construction is anticipated to begin in 2020 and last into 2023. Typical construction activities will occur during the week from 7 AM to 7 PM. In select cases, construction might occur over the weekend or at night to minimize traffic impacts.

When construction begins, you can find more exact schedules, road closure information, and other notifications right here on the website.

Will there be detours in place?2020-05-14T14:25:15-05:00

A: Detours will be in place throughout construction. Specifics will be shared as construction progresses. Find up-to-date information on the In Your Area section of the website. Local traffic for residents and businesses will be maintained through the use of flagging operations in work zones.

How long will construction take place near my home or business?2020-05-14T14:25:35-05:00

A: Duration of construction in a specific area will typically last a few months. Crews will install approximately 100 feet of pipeline per day depending on the site. Following installation, road restoration will take place. Temporary access will be maintained until the final pavement is complete.

Will pipeline construction impact access to my business or home?2020-05-14T14:25:53-05:00

A: Even with road closures and detours, we will maintain access to residents and businesses at all times throughout the construction process.

How can I access my business or driveway?2020-05-14T14:26:12-05:00

A: The Great Water Alliance will communicate with residents and businesses in advance about any access impacts construction may cause, and access to businesses will be coordinated and maintained at all times. While roadways are closed, the duration and extent of impact to parking will vary and could last for a few weeks to a few months.

Why does construction occur during business hours?2020-05-14T14:26:44-05:00

A: In some locations, nighttime construction may be necessary. In general, though, construction at night requires additional safety measures, can increase the cost of construction, can increase the time spent in a given area, and can cause additional residential disruptions from light and noise.

Will anything be done to minimize dust?2020-05-14T14:27:01-05:00

A: A dust control plan will be in place to reduce the impacts on the surrounding area.

Will metal plates be used in the roads during construction?2020-05-14T14:27:20-05:00

A: Yes. Metal plates are typically used at the end of a construction shift to safely cover open excavation and to minimize traffic impacts and allow road lanes to be open. There are quality control requirements in place to ensure that metal plates are placed safely and speed limit signage is appropriate where metal plates are present.

What will be done to prevent traffic congestion?2020-05-14T14:27:41-05:00

A: All traffic control plans will be approved by local authorities, including the cities, counties, and WisDOT, before they are implemented to ensure they meet industry standards for traffic signage and management. Detour signs will divert traffic from roadways with construction to other similar roads. The construction management team will be monitoring the traffic during construction and be available to address public concerns.

How can I be sure my kids will be safe near construction?2020-05-14T14:28:09-05:00

A: Impacts on sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes are taken into consideration and will be addressed in the traffic control plans. Safety is our priority. Pedestrian detours with signage will be provided to stay safely out of the construction work zone.

Will anything be done to minimize construction noise?2020-05-14T14:28:48-05:00

A: Construction equipment and activities can be noisy, but construction crews will minimize noise whenever possible. The contractor will be required to meet all noise ordinances for construction activities. Construction hours will be mostly limited to 7 AM to 7 PM, Monday through Friday.

Construction could occur in select areas on the weekends or at night to minimize public traffic impacts and will be coordinated with the local community.

How will the road be restored after the pipeline is installed?2020-05-14T14:29:08-05:00

A: There are strict quality requirements for road restoration activities including paving, striping, and signage. Roads impacted by construction will be restored to pre-construction conditions, meeting all quality and local requirements.

Will I be notified about construction activities?2020-05-14T14:29:55-05:00

A: Yes, residents and businesses along the pipeline route will be notified by a door hanger with detailed information a minimum of 14 days prior to construction starting in the area. The In Your Area section of the website will be kept up-to-date with the latest construction information.

Where can I access information about the project and construction activities?2020-05-14T14:30:27-05:00

A: The In your Area section of the website will be kept up-to-date with the latest construction information.

How can I receive more information and updates regarding the project?2020-05-14T14:45:15-05:00

A: You can sign up to receive the Great Water Alliance E-Newsletter which is distributed every other month. Sign up here on the website.

Who gets the emails that are sent to the GWA email address?2020-05-14T14:40:28-05:00

A: Emails that are sent to the program email address are received by the Waukesha Water Utility and the Program Management team. Emails are not sold or distributed.

Will a project team member answer the information line?2020-05-14T14:41:08-05:00

A: Please contact the Program Hotline at 262-409-4444 and leave a voicemail with your name, question, and contact information. A Program representative will respond within one business day.

Construction might hurt my business. Will Waukesha Water Utility compensate me?2020-05-14T14:41:25-05:00

A: We will work with residents and business owners to maintain access at all times during construction and take measures to minimize impacts to your business. The Waukesha Water Utility will notify businesses in advance about project schedules and construction activities, so business owners can plan accordingly. These pipelines will be constructed in the public right-of-way.

I have a claim for damages from construction. How do I file a claim?2020-05-14T14:41:53-05:00

A: Please contact the Program Hotline at 262-409-4444 and leave a voicemail with your name, question, and contact information. A Program representative will respond within one business day.

Who can I contact for more information about the project?2020-05-14T14:42:56-05:00

A: You can contact a representative by calling the Program Hotline, 262-409-4444, or by email right here on the website.

Why are rates going up in Waukesha?2020-12-10T10:23:49-06:00

A: Two reasons: The ongoing costs of operating and maintaining existing infrastructure for both water supply and sewer services, and the costs of switching to a new water supply.

Waukesha is undertaking a large capital project to switch to a Lake Michigan water supply by 2023, to ensure that our community has reliable and safe drinking water for the long term.

Why is Waukesha switching to a new water supply?2019-12-06T13:38:45-06:00

A: Our current water supply is unreliable for the long-term needs of our community.

Our current primary groundwater source is depleted. It also has excessive amounts of natural contaminants, including radium, and we face a 2023 deadline to provide water that fully complies with federal drinking water standards. We must address both these issues. Doing nothing is not an option.

More than 15 years of study convinced city leaders that we must switch to Lake Michigan water. All ten Great Lakes states and provinces agreed with our conclusion that using and returning lake water is the only reasonable option.

There is no cheaper alternative. Increasing treatment for radium contamination, for example, would only be an expensive, short-term Band-Aid.

Our switch to Lake Michigan water by 2023 will ensure that city residents and businesses have a water supply that is safe, reliable, and sustainable for the long term, helping ensure that our city is a desirable place to live now and for generations to come.

When is all this happening?2020-12-10T10:24:43-06:00

A: Several years of planning and permitting is complete and construction began in late 2020. Completion of the project is expected in 2023.

What does my water bill pay for?2020-12-10T10:25:40-06:00

A: Water bills cover the costs of supplying drinking water and then treating the wastewater.

The water supply part of your bill pays for the infrastructure, testing, and people needed to obtain water, to treat it, and to deliver high-quality water to your home. It covers the costs of constructing, maintaining, and replacing the necessary pipes and treatment facilities. For the average residential customer in Waukesha, the water supply charge in 2021 is estimated to be $108 per quarter, once new water supply rates are approved by state regulators.

In 2018, Waukesha added a return flow charge to pay the costs of building and operating a return flow system. That includes the required 23-mile pipeline that will recycle Lake Michigan water back to the Great Lakes Basin. The average return flow charge in 2021 will be approximately $42 per quarter.

The other half of your water bill is the wastewater charge, which pays for collecting and treating the wastewater you generate and then returning it to the environment as clean water. The average wastewater charge is expected to be $120 per quarter in 2021.

The estimated total water bill for Waukesha residential customers, with an average water usage of 12,000 gallons, in 2021 adds up to about $270 per quarter. One thing to note is that the Water Utility expects to switch to monthly billing for all customer classes in early 2021, making it easier to budget for water bill charges and provide more timely information about water use.

Will future increases in water rates reduce the desirability of Waukesha as a place to live?2020-12-10T10:27:00-06:00

A: No. A reliable water supply makes Waukesha a better place to live. Homeowners, renters, and business owners all want to know that they can count on dependable, clean water. Any differences in water charges between communities will be too small to affect property values.

What is the total cost of the project?2020-12-10T10:28:06-06:00

A: The total cost of the project to provide a long-term, safe drinking water supply is estimated at $285 million.

Although we received good news on federal financing and initial construction bids in 2020, we will have a better sense of project cost in 2021, once more construction work is underway and other project bids have been received.

Can the city avoid any part of the rate increases?2020-12-10T10:29:19-06:00

A: City and Waukesha Water Utility officials are doing all they can to reduce the financial impacts.

For example, the City 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. It is the rates paid by users that pay the costs.

Does Waukesha have water conservation programs?2019-03-08T14:21:50-06:00

A: Yes, conservation rebates and information on saving water are on our utility site.

Waukesha is a leader in water conservation efforts. You can find information on our rebate programs for rain barrels, as well as water-saving toilets and showerheads, at our utility website, The site also has tips on how to conserve water, facts about when sprinkling is allowed in Waukesha and information about our education programs. Businesses can also find information on conservation incentives at the site. Or call us at (262) 521-5272.

How can I stay informed about the water supply project?2019-03-08T14:55:02-06:00

A: The Great Water Alliance website is a great way to stay informed.

Follow us

Call Waukesha Water Utility
(262) 521-5272

And you can learn more about utility issues and water conservation – including rebates for rain barrels and water-saving toilets and showerheads – at

How will the new water taste?2019-03-04T16:29:54-06:00

A: The taste of water that’s sourced from Lake Michigan may be slightly different than Waukesha’s current groundwater because it will have less mineral content.

While taste preferences are subjective, it’s important to remember that millions of people drink and enjoy freshwater from the Great Lakes every day, including those in many Wisconsin communities.

Will Waukesha residents still need their water softeners after the changeover in 2023?2019-03-29T11:25:51-05:00

A: This will be a personal decision each customer will need to make. The City of Waukesha is encouraging residents to optimize their softeners because they contribute to higher salt levels in waterways. At a minimum, the softener regeneration cycle can be scaled back significantly because the new water will be nearly 70% softer than the current supply.

As a Waukesha resident, what changes can I expect with the new water?2022-12-02T09:19:09-06:00

A: The biggest change with the switch from groundwater to the new Lake Michigan supply is that the water coming into homes and businesses will be 70% softer. In other words, it will have much less calcium and magnesium in it. There will also be less total dissolved solids, including iron, and manganese. The water will also be good for your dishwasher, your washing machine and your hot water heater because there will be much less mineral build-up.

Waukesha Water Utility will keep its customers informed about the transition to a new water supply in 2023. Please check back for updates and also sign up for our newsletter.

How will the project be paid for, and will it affect my water bill?2019-03-08T13:26:11-06:00

A: Waukesha’s new water program will be funded through several sources that will all impact rates.

The sale of bonds, low-interest state and federal loans, and federal grant money will pay for the project. Of course, as the beneficiaries of the program, customers of the Waukesha Water Utility will ultimately pay for the project through increased rates. The water portion of the bill — typically about half of the total bill, which includes wastewater charges will triple in coming years. However, residents in the service area are, by and large, viewing the increase as a vital investment in their community’s future. For more information go to Waukesha’s In Your Area page and click “read more.”

Where will the pipeline be located?2022-11-30T16:13:24-06:00

A: Waukesha Water Utility held 11 open houses to get input on possible water supply pipeline routes from Milwaukee to Waukesha. This helped us identify routes that reduced construction impacts on residents. After months of analysis, we identified a preferred route and conducted further investigations in 2018. The preferred route will use existing rights-of-way and transportation corridors for most of its length. You can find maps and more information here.

A similar process was used to determine the route for the return flow pipeline from Waukesha to Franklin, where the treated water will enter the Root River.

Construction is expected to start in 2020 and be complete in 2023. Please check back for updates and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed on pipeline routes and construction plans.

When is the project expected to be completed?2022-12-02T09:19:42-06:00

A: Waukesha is required to complete the new water supply by September 2023. The project will take several years to plan and build. The Waukesha Water Utility is currently working with consultants on program management, project design, pipeline routes, permitting, public outreach planning, and more to ensure on-time delivery of this important project. Construction is expected to begin in 2020 and be complete in 2023. As work progresses, we’ll be reaching out to people in the affected communities on a regular basis.

Please check back for updates and also sign up for our newsletter.

Is it unusual for a municipality to discharge to a river?2019-03-08T13:04:27-06:00

A: No. About 473 — or 94% — of the more than 500 municipal wastewater treatment plants in Wisconsin discharge treated flow into rivers.

Only 22 flow directly to the Great Lakes and 8 flow directly to inland lakes. Federal and state regulations protect water quality and communities that are downstream of municipal discharges, and Waukesha’s return flow will meet all permit limits.

The only thing unusual about Waukesha’s discharge is its high quality. Only a handful of communities in Wisconsin have treatment processes that are as advanced as those used by Waukesha’s Clean Water Plant.

Is there a risk of untreated or partially treated wastewater from Waukesha ending up in Lake Michigan or the Root River?2019-03-04T16:01:39-06:00

A: No. There will be no risk of a sewer overflow to the Great Lakes from Waukesha.

Waukesha has separate storm sewers and sanitary sewers, unlike some communities with combined sewer overflow problems. So Waukesha’s Clean Water Plant is not overwhelmed during heavy rain. In addition, the return flow pump station is designed so that only fully treated water can reach the pumps and pipes that will send the return flow back to Lake Michigan. Waukesha is legally bound by permit requirements and the Compact to return only treated, clean water to Lake Michigan.

What will the impact be on fish in the Root River?2019-03-04T16:00:30-06:00

A: Waukesha’s return flow will help improve the fishery and support fish stocking programs in the Great Lakes Basin.

The base flow of the Root River has been reported since 1966 to be too low to support water quality, recreation, and fisheries goals in the watershed. The Department of Natural Resources and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission have explored adding to the volume of water in the river for decades, but have been unable to augment the river’s flow because the costs were too high.

During the summer and fall, some sections of the river have very low flow, adversely affecting the fish migration from Lake Michigan. Increased flows would improve river habitat and aid the fishery, particularly during fall spawning runs of salmon and trout. At the Root River Steelhead Facility, for instance, the clean water of Waukesha’s return flow will increase river levels by 6.6 inches during low flow periods, improving fish passage.

According to the data, increasing the stream flow will be beneficial to our fisheries program goals or the Root River and Lake Michigan. Not only would increased flows have a positive impact on the number of fish entering the river and to our facility, it is also likely that the angling experiences would be expanded because, with more water, there could be more places to fish below the Horlick Dam. Then, with higher flows, fish may enter the river earlier and stay in the river for longer periods, thereby extending the angling season for these anadromous fish.

Waukesha will borrow (and return) up to 8.2 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. This may seem like a large amount, but during high-flow events, the return flow is inconsequential compared to the total volume of water in the river. For example, during the June 2008 storm, the Root River flow measured a little over 5.2 billion gallons. Waukesha’s added outflow would have meant an increase of just 0.15%.

Will Waukesha’s return flow harm water quality in the Root River?2019-04-12T14:52:34-05:00

A: No, return flow to the Root River will protect water quality because the water will meet all state and federal water quality limits. For some substances — for example, phosphorus — return flow water quality will be cleaner than that of the river itself.

Discharging to a river or stream is the norm throughout the country. In Wisconsin alone, approximately 94% of the over 500 wastewater utilities discharge to a river or stream.

Waukesha’s discharge to the Root River in Franklin will have stricter permit limits than existing area wastewater discharges to the Root River and other rivers, or directly to Lake Michigan. Waukesha’s Clean Water Plant uses advanced treatment processes that are matched by only a handful of municipalities in the state.

In approving Waukesha’s application, the Great Lakes Compact Council, made up of eight governors, unanimously concluded that the program’s return flow will benefit the Root River. You can learn more about the findings here.

How will Waukesha’s Great Water Alliance program affect me?2022-12-02T09:20:13-06:00

A: For City of Waukesha residents, the program will provide water that’s safe, reliable, and environmentally sustainable.

Water rates will increase to cover the expense of this vital project. Most, but not all, of the construction impacts will be outside of Waukesha, starting in 2020. There will be additional issues to consider during the switchover to Lake Michigan water in 2023, and Waukesha Water Utility will keep customers informed about what to expect.

For communities along the pipeline routes, there will be some inconveniences during construction, since most of the pipeline will be built alongside existing roads. However, we are developing plans to minimize those impacts and to ensure that the public is well-informed. Please check back for updates and also sign up for our newsletter.

Waukesha Water Utility is committed to keeping the lines of communication clear and open throughout the process.

Is Waukesha a precedent for hundreds of additional diversions?2019-03-08T13:03:17-06:00

A: No. Very few other communities are likely to apply for diversions under the Great Lakes Compact.

The Compact bans diversions of Great Lakes water. The two exceptions are for “Straddling Communities” and “Communities in Straddling Counties.” The strict criteria require that the borders of the community itself — or the county in which it is situated — must straddle the Great Lakes surface water divide to even apply for water. This means, very few communities and other counties would even qualify to apply for a diversion.

It should be noted that withdrawing and returning water over long distances is extremely expensive, and typically requires geographic proximity to a large municipal water supply within the Great Lakes Basin. A community in a straddling county — like Waukesha — needs to demonstrate that it has no reasonable water supply alternative and get the approval of all eight Great Lakes governors. For the small number of communities that do meet these criteria, the successful Waukesha application sets a strong precedent for protecting public health and the environment.


Who benefits now that Waukesha’s request has been approved?2019-03-04T15:50:53-06:00

A: Great Lakes supporters, environmentalists, proponents of good government planning, fishing enthusiasts, public health advocates, and the citizens of Southeast Wisconsin.

Of course, residents of the City of Waukesha, who need a safe and reliable supply of drinking water, will be the primary beneficiary. Residents of Milwaukee will also benefit from new revenues for the Milwaukee Water Works. But in a very real sense, every person who lives and works in the Great Lakes Basin area will gain from knowing that the Compact Council was able to balance the need for access to clean drinking water with the imperative to maintain environmental sustainability. Waukesha’s application proved that the Great Lakes Compact works. This ensures they will be protected for generations to come.

How is the volume of return flow managed?2019-03-04T15:50:09-06:00

A: Treated, clean water will be returned to Lake Michigan via the Root River on a daily basis, in an amount equal to the average daily volume withdrawn during the previous calendar year.

The amount lost to consumption is made up because some rainfall, snowmelt, and shallow groundwater is also treated as part of the return flow. The Clean Water plant treats on average 20% to 40% more than the water pumped to the customers of the Waukesha Water Utility. Therefore, we can return about 100% of the amount that is withdrawn from the Great Lakes. Any water beyond that will be discharged through Waukesha’s existing outlet to the Fox River. An analysis of the years 2005 through 2012 shows that the percentage of water returned in each of those years would have ranged from 99.6% to 100.8%, compared to the volume withdrawn the previous year.

Will the New Water Supply Program affect Great Lakes water levels?2019-04-12T14:51:25-05:00

A: No. Waukesha’s use of Lake Michigan water and return flow to Lake Michigan will result in no negative impact on Great Lakes levels.

The Great Lakes Compact requires that Waukesha return all borrowed water, less consumptive use (such as from residents watering their gardens), back to the Great Lakes Basin. This legal requirement sets a positive precedent for protecting Great Lakes water levels. Waukesha will actually exceed this requirement and will return the same amount it borrows from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha’s future average daily withdrawal will be less than 1/1,000,000th of 1% of the volume of the Great Lakes. To put this in perspective, the amount borrowed is the equivalent of dipping out one teaspoon from an Olympic-sized swimming pool — and then putting it back.

Who will be selling water to Waukesha?2019-03-04T15:46:57-06:00

A: The City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin will provide water to Waukesha under a 2017 agreement.

Milwaukee’s water treatment plants are among the most advanced in the country and will provide reliable, high quality water. Great Lakes water from Milwaukee will save Waukesha residential customers an average of more than $200 annually per household, compared to other suppliers.

Milwaukee will benefit from new revenue from selling the water to Waukesha.

At no stage will water supplied to Waukesha be conveyed through any lead pipes. Milwaukee has said it will use revenues from the new water deal to help solve lead pipe problems that affect some of its own customers.

Waukesha’s wastewater will continue to be treated by Waukesha’s own high-quality Clean Water Plant.

Is Waukesha’s water safe to drink now?2019-03-04T15:46:05-06:00

A: Yes. Federal standards for the maximum levels of radium in drinking water are set to prevent increased health risks for people who drink the water over many years.

Currently, state regulators allow Waukesha Water Utility to operate while meeting radium standards on a weighted average, but moving forward we are obligated to come into compliance with the standards at all times. The switch to a new water supply allows us to do that.

Providing safe, reliable drinking water to customers is the top priority for Waukesha Water Utility. Waukesha’s water is safe to drink today…and will be even safer to drink once the new water supply is up and running.

Will Waukesha use Lake Michigan water to fuel the development of new homes or businesses?2019-03-08T13:01:51-06:00

A: No. The City of Waukesha is largely developed. Population growth will be very limited, and new development will be predominantly infill.

The approval of Waukesha’s application legally limits the geographic footprint of Waukesha’s water supply area primarily to the city. Less than 3% of the approved service area is outside the city limits, including 26 acres in Pewaukee that are already served by the city, as well as town “islands” — also currently served — that are surrounded by the city. Waukesha needs a new water supply to sustainably meet the needs of existing residents, not to support additional growth.

Would water conservation programs have prevented the need for Great Lakes water?2019-03-04T15:44:45-06:00

A: No. While water conservation is important in satisfying both Waukesha’s water needs and the terms of the Compact, it cannot save enough water to avoid the need for a new, sustainable water supply.

Waukesha will continue to be a leader in water conservation. It has already adopted the first daytime ban on sprinkling, the first conservation rate structure, and the first high-efficiency toilet rebate program in the state. Waukesha also remains committed to ongoing public education and outreach about both existing and expanded conservation efforts.

Continued reliance on groundwater, however, would require water and energy-intensive treatment for the removal of contaminants such as radium, total dissolved salts (TDS) and strontium from the deep aquifer, and arsenic from the shallow aquifer. The volume of water wasted would exceed the volume of water saved through conservation. Beyond that, it is not environmentally responsible.

Why wouldn’t Waukesha just install new treatment systems for its radium issue?2019-03-08T13:01:16-06:00

A: Adding an expensive radium removal system to treat deep aquifer wells and developing more shallow wells does not address the primary issue — providing the City with a long-term, sustainable, and reliable water supply.

In addition to radium, groundwater quality issues include high total dissolved salts (TDS) and strontium in the deep aquifer, and arsenic in the shallow aquifer. Treatment systems to remove these contaminants would be energy intensive and generate concentrated waste pollutants that are difficult to treat and dispose of. The extra volume of water needed for such treatment systems would be more than the volume saved through the City’s conservation program.

The Great Lakes option is the only reasonable alternative because it is the best way to protect public health and the environment for the long term. Unlike groundwater options in the area, a Lake Michigan water supply is environmentally sustainable because Waukesha will recycle and return all of the water volume back to the Lake after use and treatment.

What caused the depletion of Waukesha’s water supply?2019-03-15T10:14:52-05:00

A: A thick layer of shale rock restricts recharge of Waukesha’s primary water source, the deep aquifer.

This shale layer covers much of southeastern Wisconsin (including Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha Counties, and most of Waukesha County) as well as northeastern Illinois. The limited natural recharge of rain and snowmelt to the deep aquifer has contributed to depletion (or drawdown) of the aquifer. The depletion is also the result of decades of pumping by multiple municipal water systems and industries all across southeastern Wisconsin.


Waukesha’s leaders recognized this lack of sustainability and have examined water supply alternatives for decades. They have determined that Lake Michigan is the only reasonable water supply alternative.

The Great Lakes states that approved Waukesha’s proposal unanimously agreed, saying, “The groundwater depletion, along with the radium contamination issue, demonstrates that the deep aquifer is not a sustainable or safe source of water for the people served by the Applicant.”

Where is Waukesha and who lives there?2019-03-04T15:40:12-06:00

A: Waukesha is an older, developed city of 72,000 people that is part of the Milwaukee metropolitan area. It lies about 17 miles west of Lake Michigan and 1.5 miles from the Great Lakes Basin surface water divide.

The City of Waukesha is the county seat of Waukesha County. As the primary urban area for the county, it is home to a historic downtown, a mass transit system, and an established community of increasing diversity. A visitor to Waukesha would find many similarities to other small cities throughout the Great Lakes Basin.

Why does Waukesha need Great Lakes water?2019-12-06T13:20:44-06:00

A: Waukesha’s existing primary groundwater supply does not comply with safe drinking water standards and is environmentally unsustainable.

The unanimous approval by the Great Lakes states found that none of Waukesha’s alternatives to Great Lakes water are “reliable sources for a long-term, dependable, and sustainable public water supply.”

The existing water supply — a deep aquifer — is depleted, due in part to a natural formation (a thick layer of shale rock) that restricts rain and snowmelt from naturally percolating through the ground and recharging it. As water levels have decreased, levels of naturally occurring contaminants such as radium have increased. Long-term use of the aquifer is not sustainable, and continuing to pump it until exhaustion would be expensive to treat to remove contaminants and environmentally irresponsible.

Waukesha’s secondary water source is shallow groundwater wells. Adding new shallow groundwater wells would have permanent environmental impacts on valued brooks and streams, as well as nearby wetland habitats in environmentally sensitive areas.

We’d like to hear from you.

The Great Water Alliance welcomes your thoughts and opinions as we work to improve and protect water resources in the City of Waukesha, the Root River, and the Lake Michigan Basin. Feel free to leave us a message below, or call our dedicated hotline at (262) 409-4444.

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