June 26, 2019

The $286 million project to get Lake Michigan drinking water to Waukesha and send treated wastewater back to the lake needs people to build the infrastructure.

About 50 potential contractors attended a briefing in Waukesha Tuesday. They discussed some of the engineering and construction challenges ahead.

Waukesha’s current drinking water source — groundwater — is contaminated with radium. So, the city went through a long process of getting the Great Lakes states to OK piping Lake Michigan water to Waukesha. Approval was needed because the city is outside the Great Lakes Basin.

Waukesha plans to tap into Milwaukee-supplied water on the southwest side of Milwaukee, and after use, pipe treated wastewater to the Root River in Franklin. The river empties into the lake at Racine.

Engineers have largely designed the pipeline project. The construction management firm Black & Veatch has been hired. At an information session for potential bidders, Deputy Construction Manager Jeff Champion said there will be challenges, including getting pipe under a railroad track on Waukesha’s south side.

“That is a very popular, heavily traveled track. If you sit there for an hour or two, you’re going to count at least four trains. So, that’s going to be an interesting one to coordinate,” Champion said.

Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak says another challenge will be that each way, the water has to go over the Subcontinental Divide in eastern Waukesha County. So, pumping stations will be needed.

“It’s a very complex program because we’re also pumping at a higher pressures than normal. So, the pipeline and materials have to be adequately sized, and the correct wall thickness [for the pipe] that it can handle that pressure,” Duchniak told WUWM.

But Duchniak says he’s confident the project will work. He’s says he’s happy with the turnout for Tuesday’s meeting.

Among the contractors attending was Steve Ford, of Missouri-based Garney Construction. Ford says one of the tests for the project will be installing pipe in what are called trenchless crossings.

“Well, it just means that you don’t dig across. You either bore underneath it in some method, but you don’t excavate a trench from up top. [The crossings include] road, railroad, in this case, they mentioned some gas lines that have to be crossed with a trenchless methodology,” Ford said.

Still, Ford says he expects his firm to go to the next step of applying for eligibility to submit a bid.

Project managers hope to start construction by next spring. The federal government is requiring the pipeline project to be at least half done by May 2022, and completed by September 2023.