RACINE — With Waukesha’s quest for Lake Michigan water nearing its final stages, state Rep. Cory Mason is hitting the road.
Mason, D-Racine, will be in Chicago on Thursday and Friday when officials from Great Lakes states and provinces meet to discuss the city’s application.
Next week, he’ll travel to Toronto for the Great Lakes Economic Forum and speak with Ontario officials about the diversion. In May, he’ll travel to Albany, N.Y. and meet with legislators there.
It’s all in an effort to kill Waukesha’s proposed diversion of Lake Michigan water. Due to problems with its water supply, the city is proposing to divert an average of 10 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day and returning treated wastewater to the lake through the Root River.
Mason, who is not using state resources for his travel, argues the diversion would harm the Root. He says Waukesha can treat its current water supply, which has been plagued by high levels of radium, rather than tap Lake Michigan.
A Waukesha official says the city’s only reasonable alternative is lake water and insists the diversion would help, not hurt, the Root River.
The decision is now in the hands of all eight Great Lakes governors, who could decide 30 days after this week’s gathering.
States’ hands tipped?
The health of the Great Lakes has been a big issue for Mason since he was elected in 2006.
In his first term, he was involved in the drafting of the Great Lakes Compact. The 2008 multi-state agreement specifies how the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin must be managed and includes provisions on diversions.
Mason, who has already traveled to Minnesota to discuss Waukesha’s proposal, says he’s been pleasantly surprised at the response so far. He hasn’t needed to persuade anyone why a city in Wisconsin requesting Great Lakes water matters to someone in, say, New York.
“I’ve been very pleased how many people from different jurisdictions are here to make sure we get this right,” said Mason, who is also chairman of the Great Lakes Legislative Council, which includes legislators from all Great Lakes states and provinces.
So far, the loudest opposition to the proposal has come from Minnesota, he said. Waukesha’s request needs unanimous approval, meaning every state has veto power.
Both sides say this week’s meetings could provide the first indication on which way states are leaning.
The group is seeking a consensus opinion it would forward to Great Lakes governors. Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, said officials will look to finalize “findings of fact” — an agreement about the facts on which the states’ decision will be based.
Waukesha is preparing for scrutiny on the service area and the volume of water it proposes to divert, Duchniak said. In addition to increasing its usage from 6 million gallons a day to an average of 10 million gallons, the utility’s service area would also expand.
The states could approve the request with certain conditions, he said.
“Waukesha still remains confident that ultimately the application will be approved because I believe the science behind the application is solid and that it shows the only reasonable water supply for the city of Waukesha is a Great Lakes supply,” Duchniak said.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body meets at 1 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Thursday’s meeting is at Student Center-East, 750 S. Halsted St.; Friday’s meeting is at Student Center-West, 828 S. Wolcott Ave.
The Regional Body may meet again on May 10 and May 11. Great Lakes governors are expected to meet in late May or early June to reach a final decision.