Published August 3, 2017
By the Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — A group representing mayors and cities in the Great Lakes region has dropped its fight against letting Waukesha draw water from Lake Michigan.

On Wednesday, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative said it reached a settlement with the Great Lakes Compact Council, which represents the region’s eight states. The council last year granted Waukesha permission to tap the lake, which ordinarily would be prohibited because the city is outside the watershed boundary.

Waukesha needs a new water source because its groundwater is contaminated with radium, but has been mixing water from its deep and shallow aquifers to provide safe drinking water.

Waukesha had been required to be in full compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s radium-in-water standards by June 30, 2018, or be fined under a previous agreement with the state. The city didn’t receive final approval for the Lake Michigan project until 2017, which left two years for planning, design and construction. A new agreement, reached in July, buys Waukesha five more years for completion, until Sept. 1, 2023.

The cities group unsuccessfully appealed the council’s decision and had considered a lawsuit. Mayor Shawn Reilly expressed happiness with the outcome.

“We are pleased that the GLSLCI (Cities Initiative) has chosen not to further appeal the approval by the Great Lakes Compact to allow Waukesha to use and return Lake Michigan water. We will continue to move forward toward providing a sustainable, reliable, and safe drinking water supply for the City of Waukesha,” Reilly said in a statement.

“The Great Lakes Compact Council stated, ‘none of the evaluated alternatives were found to be reliable sources for a longterm, dependable, and sustainable public water supply and, therefore, the Applicant is without a reasonable water supply alternative’ to using and returning Lake Michigan water. The Compact Council based its decision on science, the law and the years of research behind Waukesha’s application.” Under their deal, the cities group and the state council will review the process for considering similar requests in the future, with an eye toward involving more stakeholder groups and having more public hearings.

“We are moving forward on permitting and then construction of the project, and anticipate using and returning Lake Michigan water by 2023,” Reilly said.

Also contributing: Katherine Michalets, Freeman Staff

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