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Contact information
For information on this page, contact:
Shaili Pfeiffer
Water Use Section
Bureau of Drinking and Groundwater
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707-7921
Phone number: 608-267-7630

City of Waukesha water diversion application Background

The City of Waukesha submitted an updated Application for a Lake Michigan Diversion with Return Flow in mid-October 2013. The application asserts that Waukesha needs a new source of water to address water quantity and quality concerns. Waukesha currently obtains its public water supply primarily from groundwater wells in the deep aquifer. Water levels in the deep aquifer are hundreds of feet lower than they were predevelopment. Groundwater pumped from the deep aquifer contains high levels of radium, a carcinogen. The public supply is supplemented by water from the shallow aquifer. Waukesha seeks an exception from the prohibition of diversions under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

Quantity and service area

Waukesha seeks to divert up to an annual average of 10.1 million gallons of water per day by final build-out of the water supply service area (approximately 2050). The water is proposed to serve an area that includes all of the City of Waukesha and may also serve portions of the City of Pewaukee and the towns of Waukesha, Genesee, and Delafield in the future.

Water supply and wastewater return

The application proposes to purchase treated Lake Michigan water from the City of Oak Creek. The water will be transported to Waukesha via a pipeline and distributed to customers. The application also proposes that after consumptive use remaining water will be treated at the Waukesha wastewater treatment plant before it is piped to the applicant’s preferred discharge alternative, the Root River.

Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact

The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact) became effective on December 8, 2008. Together with the Companion Great Lakes — St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, the Compact addresses water quantity management in the Great Lakes Basin. The Compact and related legislation implementing the Compact´s provisions in Wisconsin set out requirements for sustainable water use in the Great Lakes Basin. The Compact, codified in Chapter 281 of the Wisconsin Statutes [PDF], prohibits diversions of Great Lakes water, with limited exceptions.

One exception to the Compact´s ban on diversions allows a “community within a straddling county” to apply for a diversion of Great Lakes water. A “community within a straddling county” means any incorporated city, town, or the equivalent thereof, that is located outside the basin but wholly within a county that lies partly within the basin. The City of Waukesha qualifies as a community within a straddling county under the Compact.

A proposal for a diversion to a community in a straddling county is not allowed under the Compact unless all of the following apply:

  • the water is used solely for public water supply purposes;
  • the community is otherwise without an adequate supply of potable water;
  • the diversion meets the exception standard [See sections 281.343 (4n)(d) and 281.346 (4)(f) of the Wisconsin Statutes];
  • the proposal maximizes the amount of water that originated in the basin that is returned to the basin and minimizes the amount of water that originated outside of the basin that is returned to the basin;
  • there is no reasonable water supply alternative in the basin in which the community is located (in Wisconsin, that would be the upper Mississippi River basin), including conservation of existing water supplies;
  • the proposal will not endanger the integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem based upon a determination that the proposal will have no significant adverse impact on the Great Lakes basin ecosystem;
  • the proposal is consistent with an approved water supply service area plan under section 281.348 of the Wisconsin Statutes that covers the public water supply system;
  • the proposal is reviewed by the regional body (the Governors of the eight Great Lakes States and the premiers of Ontario and Quebec, Canada); and
  • the proposal is approved by the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council (consisting of the Governors of the eight Great Lakes States) with no disapproving votes.
Last revised: Wednesday January 06 2016