Over the years, many UUCW members participated in discussions about whether Waukesha should be allowed to use water from Lake Michigan instead of its own groundwater, which is contaminated with radium. Waukesha is entirely outside the Great Lakes basin—the divide is just a few miles west of UUCW—but lies in a “straddling county”. Situations such as Waukesha’s led to the creation of the Great Lakes Compact in 2008, which limits diversions of water to communities outside the basin but within straddling counties. The caveat is that a volume of water equal to the average daily use must be returned to the basin.
Years of litigation ensued, but a final plan to divert up to 8.2 million gallons per day of lake water to Waukesha was approved in 2016. Waukesha currently uses about 6 million gallons per day. It was recently announced that the construction of the pipes to carry clean water from Milwaukee, as well as discharge treated wastewater to the Root River, which flows back to the lake, will start this fall. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2023.
Concerns remain about the impacts of this project, both on promoting suburban “sprawl” as well as on the Root River and the Fox River, which will both see changes in their base-level flows. Environmental groups will be following this closely, as it is the first of many such diversions expected in the coming decades.
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