New underground rivers will run through them - that is, in Franklin, Muskego and New Berlin.

For the curious, concerned and unknowing, plans about the underground aqueducts carrying 8.2 million gallons of Lake Michigan drinking water to Waukesha daily will be presented later this month at forums in those communities.

Locally, Waukesha Common Council aldermen were briefed June 6 on the enormous public works project tied to the historic water diversion plan.

Along the way

The series of open houses are meant to inform residents and answer questions on how the water diversion may affect their communities.

Three route alternatives for the underground pipeline are being considered and will be available for review at the open houses. One route will be selected later this year. Construction is expected to begin in early 2020 with completion in 2023.

“The open houses are intended to allow residents to learn more, ask questions and provide comments to the water utility and its program engineering partners,” said Waukesha Water Utility Manager Dan Duchniak.

Residents can examine maps of the three alternative routes and offer comments, learn more about why Waukesha is making use of Lake Michigan as its drinking water source, and how the highly treated water will improve the health of the Root River, Duchniak said.

Cleanly process

Those who oppose the diversion and use of the Root River as a return point have questioned Duchniak's assertion about improving the river's health.

For those people, he offers a pointed argument.

“Water coming from (Waukesha's) clean water plant is cleaner than the river itself, and the added flow will improve the river’s health and benefit the fishery during traditional low-flow periods," he said.

"The additional flow would be extremely small comparable to the river’s flow during storm events and would not add to flooding problems."

Duchniak noted that most people don’t realize that 93 percent of Wisconsin’s 515 municipal wastewater treatment plants discharge into rivers or streams. The other seven percent discharge to Lake Michigan, Lake Superior or to inland lakes. Waukesha itself is downstream on a river from both Brookfield and Sussex’s wastewater discharges.

“Federal and state regulations protect water quality and communities that are downstream of municipal discharges. Only a handful of communities in Wisconsin have treatment processes as advanced and effective as those at Waukesha’s Clean Water Plant," he said.

“Our current discharge must meet standards allowing swimming and recreational use of the Fox River. We expect the permit limits for discharge into the Root River will be even stricter, and we’ll meet or be cleaner than those limits.”

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside are collecting water quality data twice a month on a 25-mile stretch of the Root River beginning in Franklin and moving downstream to downtown Racine to better understand the river’s current health.

The water issue

Waukesha, with federal permission, has decided to seek a new source of drinking water, because the safety of its well water is in question.  

The city is under federal order to reduce the level of radium in its drinking water, brought on by the overuse of the deep aquifer by many communities. Radium is a naturally occurring substance that has been linked to cancer.     

The Oak Creek Water Utility has agreed to provide lake water to Waukesha, provided a contract on water sales is reached. 

Duchniak says the contract should be ready for consideration by Waukesha and Oak Creek elected officials at the end of next month.  

Waukesha will return the same amount of treated water to Lake Michigan via the Root River in a secondary pipe. In order to do that, Waukesha will need a discharge permit from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Duchniak said the timetable to get the permit is next summer. Used lake water will be treated at Waukesha’s water treatment plant and returned to an outfall point near South 60th Street in Franklin that empties into the Root River, ultimately flowing back to Lake Michigan.

Where it's at

Open houses for the underground water system are scheduled for:

  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, Hunger Task Force Farm, 9000 S. 68th St., Franklin
  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 28, Muskego High School, Room 243, W185 S8750 Racine Ave. in Muskego
  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 29, New Berlin Public Library - Community Room, 15105 W. Library Lane, New Berlin.
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