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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

Current status

July 2014

The DNR sent letters July 17, 2014 to EPA [PDF] and the City of Waukesha [PDF] regarding requirements for discharging wastewater return flow to the Root River. These letters follow up on a letter sent to the City in May requesting that the City to review its preferred wastewater discharge location in the Lake Michigan Basin.

In December, the DNR sent letters to the City of Waukesha asking the City to clarify the demand estimates provided in the application and to provide additional detail on the City’s water conservation plan. These letters and the City’s responses are available under “Proposal”.

The City of Waukesha submitted an updated application to the DNR on October 14, 2013. This application is available under “Proposal”. At the DNR’s request, the City of Waukesha held several public informational meetings in November on the revised application. The DNR also held a comment period on the revised application that closed on December 2, 2013. These comments will be considered in the DNR’s technical review; however, a formal response to comments will not be issued.

A flow chart is provided to describe upcoming steps on the review of the application, including additional opportunities for public participation.

The City of Waukesha originally submitted a diversion application in May 2010. This updated application is in response to DNR’s request for additional information and a reorganized application to facilitate agency and public review.

Comments received

These documents include comments that the DNR received related to the Waukesha Diversion application by December 2, 2013. Unique comments are included in their entirely. The DNR also received multiple copies of several form comments. A sample of each of the form comments and the number of copies received is also provided.

Flow chart for next steps on review of Waukesha application


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 a deep aquifer where water levels have been drawn approximately 500 feet. 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 an annual average of 10.1 million gallons of water per day with a maximum day diversion of 16.7 million gallons 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 along with infiltration and inflow stormwater will be treated at the Waukesha wastewater treatment plant before it is piped to the preferred discharge alternative, the Root River. Any amount of treated wastewater in excess of 16.7 million gallons per day would be returned to the Fox River, which is the City of Waukesha’s current discharge location.

Application for a Lake Michigan diversion with return flow — October 2013

Supplemental application materials


» Previous application materials and correspondence related to the application


The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact) became effective on December 8, 2008. 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.

EIS process

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process

The DNR has determined that it will conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) process for the proposed Waukesha diversion. The Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act or WEPA, and administrative code NR 150, require the DNR to evaluate the environmental effects of the proposed project and reasonable alternatives.

The first step of the EIS process involves “scoping” of the evaluation and analysis. The DNR has prepared a Waukesha Project EIS List of Topics [PDF] to be addressed in the EIS and sought public comments to determine the scope and the significant issues to be analyzed through the EIS process.

The “scoping” stage is the first step in the EIS process. After a draft EIS is completed and published, there will be a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing. The comment period will be followed by the release of a final EIS and 30-day public comment period.

EIS scoping comments received as of May 2010

Comments received [PDF]

Public participation

Public participation is critical to the review of any diversion application. There will be many opportunities and formats to participate in reviewing Waukesha’s diversion application. If you would like to receive notice that information on this page has been updated, please sign up with GovDelivery.

Review process for the Waukesha diversion application

The DNR published a public notice [PDF] declaring the City of Waukesha’s application for Great Lakes water complete.

The following steps outline the review process for the application including the opportunities for the public, Wisconsin tribes, and state and federal agencies to participate in reviewing Waukesha’s diversion application. This process may be modified as needed and will be updated accordingly.

Step 1: Consultation/informational meeting/public hearings

(Meetings held in 2011 on July 26, 27 and 28.)

  • DNR consults with the American Indian Tribes and Bands located in Wisconsin.
  • DNR holds public informational meeting/public hearing:
    • To introduce the review process.
    • To receive comments on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scope and the interpretation of the statutory review criteria [PDF].
    • Includes 30-day public comment period.

The following document summarizes the comments received — both written and oral — through the first public comment period and provides a response to the comments.

Step 2: DNR prepares draft technical review, draft decision and draft EIS → WE ARE HERE

  • The DNR reviews the application and public comments.
  • The DNR prepares the draft technical review and EIS, and makes a preliminary decision on whether the application is approvable. (The technical review is a thorough analysis and evaluation conducted to determine whether the proposal meets the statutory criteria for approval.)

Step 3: Consultation/informational meeting/public hearings II

  • DNR consults with the American Indian Tribes and Bands located in Wisconsin.
  • DNR requests comments on EIS from state and federal agencies.
  • DNR holds concurrent public hearings on the draft technical review, EIS, and preliminary decision and provides a 45-day public comment period.

Step 4: DNR finalizes the technical review and EIS

  • DNR reviews the public comments, and finalizes the technical review and EIS.
  • A 30-day public comment period is provided on the final EIS.
  • DNR determines if the application is approvable.

If DNR determines application is approvable the application must be forwarded to the Regional Body and Compact Council made up of the Great Lakes States and Provinces. The Regional Body (States and Provinces) will first issue a declaration of findings. Subsequently the Compact Council (States) must approve the application for it to move forward.

Step 5: Regional Body and Compact Council Review

  • The Regional Body and Compact Council hold an informational hearing in Waukesha.
  • Upon completion of its review, the Regional Body will issue a declaration of findings to the Compact Council. (The Regional Body has a goal to review applications in 90 days.)
  • The Compact Council will then consider Waukesha’s application in light of the Regional Body’s findings. (The Compact Council will endeavor to approve or deny the application within 60 days of receipt of the Regional Body’s findings.)
  • Opportunities for dispute resolution under the Great Lakes Compact.

If the Compact Council approves the Waukesha diversion application, the application is returned to the DNR for a final decision.

Step 6: DNR Final Decision

  • DNR conducts the necessary permit reviews (examples - WPDES, Chap. 30, etc.) and issues decisions on the permits.
  • DNR issues a final decision on the application.
  • Opportunities for dispute resolution in the State of Wisconsin.


The applicable state statutes include:


Great Lakes Basin
The Great Lakes Basin, which includes both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior watersheds, dissects Wisconsin. The Mississippi River watershed covers most of Wisconsin’s landmass.
Waukesha as a Straddling County Community
The City of Waukesha is located within the Straddling County of Waukesha but lies outside of the Lake Michigan watershed.

Last revised: Thursday January 22 2015