Waukesha Water Foes Stricken By Mass Amnesia

Opponents of water diversion conveniently forget how they sold the public on the Great Lakes Compact

February 23, 2016

by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

It takes a special kind of gall to be mayor of Milwaukee. The city of Waukesha and the Department of Natural Resources held public hearings for the benefit of the Great Lakes governors on the proposed application for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan. Apparently lacking any problems at home other than a competitive re-election campaign, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made the trip across 124th street to lecture the neighbors.

Barrett again expressed his concern about the size of the water service area even though it is not a recipe for the bogeyman “urban sprawl.” The area that would be served was set by the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Plan Commission (SWRPC), of which Milwaukee is a member, as part of the long-term water resource planning for the region. The area is already largely developed and much of the undeveloped areas are already off limits to development.

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Barrett should have taken the opportunity to consult with his fellow Democrat, state Rep. Cory Mason. Mason was at the hearing also to testify against the diversion rather than representing his constituents at the Assembly where over 100 bills were being considered. That’s a lot of votes to be missing to come to the city of Waukesha and tell the residents they don’t deserve clean water.

In 2007, it was Mason that directed the state Legislative Reference Bureau to draft the law that required the service area to match the boundaries drawn by SEWRPC. Perhaps he’s forgotten, but it doesn’t change that the city of Waukesha is bound by the law Mason supported in 2007-2008 to be able to provide water to the entire service area. In the drafting instructions Mason sent to the LRB, he even included instructions of how the DNR was supposed to handle diversion requests like Waukesha’s. The DNR “shall use, as appropriate, the current of planned service area of the public water supply system or systems receiving water under the proposal.”

Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates and Keith Reopelle of Clean Wisconsin, now opposed to the city’s application for a diversion, should have reminded Mason and Barrett the genesis of the law that required the city of Waukesha to include the entire water service area in the application. After all, they helped Mason with the drafting of the law. (Remember, outside special interests helping to draft legislation is a good thing when it’s liberals doing it.) Of course, Sinykin would have to disavow her own recent pronouncements that including the entire service area violates the Great Lakes Compact.

It’s part of a continuing, convenient amnesia by diversion opponents. They get to indulge their animus towards the city of Waukesha while ignoring the history of the city’s application.

Indeed, at the time the Great Lakes Compact was being sold to Wisconsin, one of the reasons given supporting Wisconsin signing the agreement was that it would define the process that would allow the city of Waukesha to apply for the diversion. Diversion opponent Wisconsin Wildlife Federation executive director George Meyer testified at the time:

“It is no accident that the Mayors of Waukesha and New Berlin, the two communities who have expressed interest the most immediate interest in Great Lakes water, are supporting the Compact. They know that the Compact improves their opportunity to obtain water from Lake Michigan.”

Meanwhile, in his testimony in support of the Great Lakes Compact, Democratic State Senator Mark Miller even called the rule allowing communities in counties that straddle the Great Lakes Basin to apply for diversions “the Waukesha exception.”

“The city of Waukesha has a serious public health concern with radium levels in their drinking water. Waukesha’s situation is a primary consideration. During negotiation of the compact, Wisconsin fought long and hard for an exception that would allow Waukesha to apply for Great Lakes water. It is even called the ‘Waukesha exception.'”

Adoption of the Great Lakes Compact provides the best opportunity for communities like Waukesha to obtain access to Great Lakes water.”

Today, liberals and environmental groups would rather knock the city of Waukesha rather than answer the solid science backing the application. They claim that the water service area is a deal breaker even though they had a hand in creating it. They claim that this would set a dangerous precedent, even though it would do no such thing and they actually sold the Great Lakes Compact as a way for Waukesha to solve its water issue.

And instead of correcting the record, Barrett and Mason chose to pander to these anti-Waukesha constituencies rather than focus on the jobs they were elected to do. Perhaps they aren’t really needed in those jobs.