Barrett has reopened talks with Waukesha over water sale

July 8, 2017
By Hannah Weikel, Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — Milwaukee is taking a second stab at negotiations with Waukesha over the sale of Great Lakes water after previous dealings fizzled out several years ago.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett sent an unsolicited proposal 15 days before an exclusivity agreement between Waukesha and Oak Creek expired at the end of May. The Waukesha Water Utility had to ignore the proposal until the agreement with Oak Creek lapsed. They then brought the issue to the Common Council, which initiated a full review of the proposal after a closed session last month.

Milwaukee originally pulled out of negotiations in 2012 because city officials didn’t want to provide water to Waukesha’s entire future service area, which extended beyond city limits and enveloped pieces of Pewaukee, Genesee, Delafield and the Town of Waukesha.

Waukesha came back with a letter that said cutting off areas that were part of the water service area was against the law and would not be considered and instead focused on negotiations with Oak Creek and Racine.

Barrett had said he was open to renewing negotiations with Waukesha after the Great Lakes Compact Council ratcheted down the perimeter for future water sales as part of their final approval last year. The amended area was more in line with what Milwaukee initially wanted in 2012.

Oak Creek and Racine have not placed restrictions on the Waukesha water distribution perimeter.

Waukesha is operating under a tight deadline from the Department of Justice to fix the radium levels in drinking water or find an alternative by 2018. The Waukesha Water Utility found that diverting Great Lakes water from Lake Michigan is the only sustainable and cost-effective answer.

Dan Duchniak, general manager of Waukesha’s water utility, said Milwaukee came back around and expressed interest after the service area was narrowed, but official discussions didn’t start until after the exclusivity agreement with Oak Creek ended on May 30.

Calls and emails to Barrett’s office, Milwaukee Common Council President Mike Murphy and the city of Milwaukee’s communications manager were not returned.

Waukesha’s water utility has been analyzing the proposals from Milwaukee and Oak Creek and will present findings to the water commission and Common Council during a closed session in about a month.

The council will then vote on a proposal after a public meeting later this summer. The documents outlining each proposal will be made public at that meeting once a decision is made, Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said.


The Waukesha Water Utility has already begun the process of mapping out a water pipeline route that would bring water from a treatment facility in Franklin to Waukesha and has been asking for feedback from residents.

Reilly said that process won’t stall during negotiations with Milwaukee, even though an agreement with Milwaukee would require an entirely different pipeline route for water coming into Waukesha.

Waukesha has the duty to fully analyze all proposals to make sure the best water provider is picked, he said.

Duchniak, who is leading the Great Lakes diversion project, couldn’t comment on whether having two competing proposals could decrease future water prices, which are estimated to double or even triple for Waukesha residents in coming years. He said the bulk of negotiations are on terms and conditions, such as what services would be included in the rates set by the Public Service Commission.

Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz didn’t know about Milwaukee’s renewed effort to sell water on Friday, but said that after years of purchasing negotiations between Oak Creek and Waukesha he was surprised Milwaukee decided to resubmit a proposal at the eleventh hour.

“We imagined Milwaukee would come back around, but at this stage I find it odd,” Bukiewicz said. “Naturally we’d like to service the city of Waukesha and we think it’s a fair deal that we’ve diligently worked out.”

Duchniak said the city’s goal is simply to find the best provider for Waukesha water.

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