For the Great Lakes, It's a Historic First

Waukesha, Wisconsin, becomes first community outside Great Lakes basin to receive lake water
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 10, 2023 12:29 PM CDT
Updated Oct 14, 2023 4:40 PM CDT
For the Great Lakes, It's a Historic First
In this file photo, the Fox River flows through downtown Waukesha, Wis.   (AP Photo/John Flesher, File)

For the first time, water from the Great Lakes is flowing to a community outside the Great Lakes basin. Waukesha, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb of about 70,000 on the shores of the Fox River, has been working for decades to transition its water supply as the river, its previous source of drinking water, has become contaminated with radium, per WISN. It first requested that water from Lake Michigan be pumped to the city in 2010, per Wisconsin Public Radio. Waukesha, in a county that straddles the basin line, could request a water diversion under the Great Lakes Compact, but it was not guaranteed. "Any governor in the eight states that are signatories to the Compact could have vetoed the diversion," WPR reports, noting "Waukesha barely made the cut" in 2016.

The $300 million transfer—which required cutting through a lot of red tape, investigating alternatives, ordering an environmental impact statement, and the construction of 36 miles of pipeline—is finally complete. As WISN reports, "with a push of a button Monday morning, 50 million gallons of fresh water from Lake Michigan began to flow into faucets throughout the city of Waukesha." It's now "the first community outside the Great Lakes basin to draw water from one of the Great Lakes," per WPR. "It's a sense of relief," Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, said Monday, per WISN. "We're finally going to resolve that water supply issue that we've had in the city for a number of years, and it'll be solved for generations to come."

The pipeline carries water from Lake Michigan to a pumping station in the city. About 90% of residents should receive lake water treated with chloramines by the end of this week. The remaining 10% should receive lake water within three weeks, Duchniak said. Residents can expect some temporary changes in the smell and taste of the water but are assured it is safe, per GM Today. The city can divert up to 8.2 million gallons of lake water per day. It must clean and return the water to the lake via the Root River. Actually, it will return more water than it diverts, about 9.3 million gallons daily, per WPR. It will also be required to monitor changes to the Root River for at least 10 years. (More Wisconsin stories.)

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