Switch to lake water must stay on schedule, officials say

WAUKESHA, WI. (December 20, 2018) — On January 2, 2019, the Waukesha Water Utility (WWU) will need to shut down its largest well, number 10, for repairs, but this will not affect Waukesha customers’ water service or water quality. WWU is taking these steps to continue to effectively manage the water supply before a sustainable alternative is built and completed by 2023.

By the end of January 2019, a temporary well and motor will be installed that can deliver half of the well’s regular capacity while the well undergoes up to six months of repairs. Other wells will be used as necessary to cover the additional capacity needed. Utility General Manager Daniel Duchniak said, “I am completely confident that the utility will still meet the water needs and water quality for the community. We have extensive plans in place to manage the much-needed service until the new water supply is completed.”

Pump failures and repairs are a continuing challenge for the utility. The problems with the groundwater wells show the importance of staying on schedule for the switch to Lake Michigan water in 2023. “Our staff is working diligently to meet the needs of the city. But, we have said for years – and regulators from 10 states and provinces have agreed – that our current groundwater system is not reliable or sustainable for the long term. The switch to Lake Michigan water will ensure we have safe and reliable drinking water for generations to come,” Duchniak said.

Well 10 provides 3.8 million gallons of water per day. Waukesha’s average water use is about 6 million gallons per day, but demand fluctuates with the seasons.

“We believe Well 10 is among the largest submersible pumps in the world. It is pumping water from over 600 feet below the surface. The pump will take about six months to repair,” Duchniak said. In order to have the repair completed by summer, when the highest demand for water occurs, the utility is announcing a special procurement procedure so that a streamlined repair process can be implemented.

A smaller well was also recently down for repairs. Well 8 required a 15-day shutdown for its own pump failure. This would have been much longer if the Utility did not have a required spare pump and motor on hand for installation in the case of an emergency. The problem at Well 10 began shortly before Well 8 came back online.

Waukesha is switching to Lake Michigan water due to the drawdown of its groundwater supply and the presence of naturally-occurring radium in the aquifers. The utility has six active wells that can meet temporary standards for radium. Four other wells are not regularly used due to radium problems.

The pumps generally last five years, but because of the significant use, the pumps are lasting only about two to three years. Since 2007, Waukesha Water Utility has experienced an average of one pump failure per year. Each failure costs between $150,000 and $300,000 to repair. With the latest problems, repair costs for all the wells will total about $2.5 million for that 11-year period.

The utility received permission from the Great Lakes governors to switch to Lake Michigan water under the Great Lakes Compact and is currently obtaining other needed permits. Three years of construction for the pipelines needed to access and then return the water will begin in 2020.