Commentary: Deny Waukesha’s Diversion Application

by Sandy Hamm, Steve Edlund and Steve Schmuki


We’d like to provide a personal perspective to people living in the cities, towns and villages on and near the Great Lakes who have read about Waukesha’s bid for Great Lakes water and wondered about the seriousness of the problem and viability of potential solutions.

As the Great Lakes governors and Canadian premiers meet to consider the City of Waukesha’s plan to divert Great Lakes water over the subcontinental divide, there are critical facts that you’re not hearing from official sources. We’d like to share some of those here and ask you to urge the Regional Body and your state governor to say no to this diversion.

The three of us are longtime residents of the City and Town of Waukesha, with family roots that run deep. We’re informed observers of the diversion plan since the Great Lakes Compact was first being debated.

Consider these facts:

  • More than 45 communities in Wisconsin alone have the same radium problem and are successfully treating their water supply to provide clean, healthy drinking water to their residents, all without any Great Lakes diversions.
  • For 19 months between late 2011 and mid-2013, the city provided radium-compliant water to its customers. Full, year-round compliance can be accomplished by the installation of HMO radium filters on three deep aquifer wells for a fraction of the cost of the proposed diversion.

The city boasts a “model” conservation plan but many of its proposed conservation measures have not been implemented yet, with little reason to believe they ever will be.

  • Currently Waukesha uses 6.6 million gallons of water a day but wants up to 16.7 million per day. Clearly, the city is more interested in growth and expansion than addressing its obligation to provide its current residents with clean water.
  • The city claimed the groundwater table was dropping as much as five to seven feet each year. Based on USGS monitoring data and Water Utility well reports, the deep aquifer stopped declining around year 2000 and has now risen to levels not seen since the 1980s.
  • Waukesha’s application includes an expanded service area that doubles in size its existing water service area. These expansion areas do not currently need, and have stated they do not foresee a need, for city water in the future.

For decades Waukesha embraced the annexation of hundreds of acres outside its borders, approved subdivisions large and small, courted commercial sprawl and handed out permits for apartment buildings within its borders, knowing full well that it did not have the resources or infrastructure necessary to support that growth, and while claiming a crisis of contaminated water and plummeting groundwater levels. If the crisis were real, wouldn’t it be responsible to halt expansion at least until the crisis was resolved?

But no. The city’s land use plan shows the city expanding to the south, west and north and developing big box retail, commercial and industrial development along both sides of a five-mile stretch of state highway. Subdivisions march further outward.

Those of us who have followed and studied this issue for years have done so because we are concerned about our water resources, and we certainly care that all residents of our state have access to clean, safe drinking water. We believe the alternate solutions for Waukesha are many and come at a significantly lower cost – for ratepayers and for protection of our most precious freshwater resource.

Based on the city’s history of mismanaging its resources, its continuing expansions and its cursory interpretation of the Great Lakes Compact, Waukesha has not made its case for diversion and cannot be trusted to determine this important precedent for the Great Lakes.


Sandy Hamm is a resident of the Town of Waukesha whose family is deeply rooted in the city and town. His family owned The Waukesha Freeman for more than 100 years. His great uncle Art Kuranz and second cousin Joseph Kuranz each managed the Waukesha Water Utility, Joe for nearly 30 years.


Steve Edlund is a 23-year resident of the City of Waukesha, a school board member and an advocate for government efficiency.


Steven Schmuki’s family goes back three generations in the area. He is an attorney, a Town of Waukesha resident, and president of the Waukesha County Environmental Action League, a 38-year old grassroots organization dedicated to the protection of Waukesha County’s natural resources.


Article Comments