It is an ill wind — or in this case an ill wave — that brings no one any good. Waukesha’s lingering water problem seems likely to bring Racine some good if the Racine Water Utility ends up selling water to Waukesha.
Waukesha’s problem with its drinking water is traces of radioactive substances. These traces exceed health standards, and the city must find another source of drinking water. This is the result of Waukesha — and others — drawing water from the deep aquifer beneath southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. That aquifer is hundreds of feet lower than it was before cities grew here.
The question is who will sell Waukesha Lake Michigan water to supplant water from its deep wells. Racine has begun formal talks with Waukesha, but Oak Creek and Milwaukee may be in the running, too. We hope Racine comes out as the seller because it would provide several advantages.
Concerns have focused on whether Racine will be selling jobs along with water. About 15 percent of Waukesha’s area is available for growth, and the city’s application for Lake Michigan water projects a maximum daily demand in 2030 of 16.6 million gallons. But that’s also for a projected 24 percent population increase.
The mistaken assumption is that these supposed jobs would come to the Racine area if they don’t go to Waukesha. Yet they would be available to Racine County people who commute, especially to residents of the Burlington-Rochester-Waterford corridor. Also, companies settling initially in Waukesha may create spin-off divisions near Racine, or they may attract related companies which settle here.
What we should be working on is making the region stronger, for economic strength in Waukesha County helps everyone. It makes the entire area more attractive and dynamic.
As local municipal officials have pointed out, selling water to Waukesha would directly help Racine customers. Spreading the costs over a larger customer base would reduce overall water rates, and with the loss of major industrial water customers in recent years we need to expand that base. And a pipeline running to Waukesha could provide commercial quantities of water to Interstate 94 in Caledonia.
The point we do need to be careful about is returning water to Lake Michigan. Under the terms of the Great Lakes Compact which governs water withdrawals, water taken from Lake Michigan must go back to it. It’s possible to lay a pipe, but there have also been suggestions about using rivers. An additional 9 million or 16 million gallons each day running down the Root River may bring unwelcome changes to the recreational and fishing options. This is not something to be done lightly.
In general, this looks like a good deal if it comes off. It would help us, but it would also help the region in a world where water is becoming an increasingly important issue.