By James Rowen Special to Published Oct 09, 2009 at 1:02 PM

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No political or environmental question in this region has gotten more attention in the last few years than the City of Waukesha's desire to pipe in Lake Michigan water.

A diversion to a community like Waukesha that is entirely outside the Great Lakes Basin is permissible under certain conditions laid out in a 2008 agreement with the seven other Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces, as the Great Lakes are a shared and finite resource.

Waukesha's probable application -- call it 99.999 percent guaranteed to be completed in the next few months -- would be the first of its kind under the new agreement, and therefore raises profound environmental, financial and developmental questions for Waukesha, Milwaukee (the probable water seller) and the eight-state, two-Canadian-province region covered in the agreement.

Waukesha will, for the first time, roll out some details of its plans at a meeting Monday night at the Waukesha City Hall at 7 p.m., but will only take written questions from the general public.

I have posted meeting details and some background about the application process and its politics at, and entering either the words "Great Lakes Compact" or "Waukesha" in the blog search box will bring up scores of entries and documents posted there since January, 2007.

Waukesha's unwillingness to more fully involve the public is regrettable and follows a disturbing trend; Wisconsin Department of Transportation highway informational sessions have also moved away from traditional hearing formats, where people speak directly to officials and the audience to a quieter, less meaningful model where people can leave written comments or give testimony privately to court reporters.

One preliminary piece of Waukesha's probable application has already been provided by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission -- a map designating where outside Waukesha's current water utility delivery territory that Lake Michigan water would be sent.

The map approves many square miles of open space to the water delivery territory, meaning a diversion will inevitablt push development farther from Milwaukee -- the center of the region's economy and existing infrastructure -- and more distant from Waukesha's already-built services, too.

Waukesha should have long ago let more sunshine into its water diversion planning because the stakes for the Great Lakes region, and more narrowly, Waukesha and Milwaukee, certainly demand it.

James Rowen Special to
James Rowen is a Milwaukee writer and consultant who blogs at He worked as a reporter and assistant metro editor at The Milwaukee Journal and Journal Sentinel, and held several positions with Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, including Chief of Staff. Rowen is on the board of the Institute for One Wisconsin Now, and receives funding from The Brico Fund; neither organization has control over his writing and blogging.