By James Rowen for   Published Mar 28, 2006 at 5:25 AM

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

City of Waukesha officials say they have not decided whether to apply for a controversial diversion of water from Lake Michigan to their community which lies outside of the Great Lakes basin.

And it’s hard to predict if Waukesha could win the required unanimous vote for a diversion application from the eight-member Council of Great Lakes Governors, where such decisions are made.

That’s because political and scientific concerns about the wisdom and need for diversions have long been heard in southeast Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.

A Waukesha application would likely seek about 20 million gallons of Lake Michigan water a day -- more if Waukesha continues to annex land for development and even more if other communities in Waukesha County piggy-back on to the application.

But there has been substantial funding helping to legitimize Waukesha’s interest in a diversion -- so let’s follow the money, the players and their interactions.

Begin with a little-known $411,000 study that began in June 2002 and was published in August 2003, entitled "Making a Decision on Improvement: An Annex 2001 Case Study Demonstration Involving Waukesha Water Supply."

The study paid for by The Great Lakes Protection Fund, a research arm of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. Study work took place as the governors were considering new Great Lakes water-use rules adopted in December 2005, after four years of work known as "Annex 2001".

The new water rules are designed to protect the Great Lakes, and will determine if Waukesha and other communities outside of the Great Lakes basin will be allowed to pipe in water.

Conducted by a group of consultants led by CH2M Hill, a major Colorado firm with a long history in Wisconsin, and including so-called "stakeholders" -- including the environmental groups Great Lakes United and the Lake Michigan Federation -- the case study laid out a potential blueprint of procedures and goals to both help Waukesha win withdrawal permission and benefit the region’s ecosystem.

"The Waukesha case study provides the Governor’s [rule-making] Working Group with information and tools necessary to develop the final standard for future water withdrawals…," the report concluded.

The governors’ final rules ended up strengthening certain provisions and easing others: one major change put the city of Waukesha into a new category of communities that would be allowed to apply for diversions even though they lie outside of the Great Lakes basin.

While the 2001-'05 negotiations were underway, the city of Waukesha and its water utility began laying the groundwork for a Lake Michigan diversion application and conservation planning the way a National Football Team adds free agents for a championship run.

Waukesha signaled its diversion intentions to Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle when Waukesha Mayor Carol Lombardi sent him an issues background packet, report and cover letter on August 23, 2003 that began:

"The City of Waukesha and the Waukesha Water Utility are beginning a process to obtain permission to withdraw 20 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan."

While no application has yet been filed, the water utility hired a consulting team in March 2004 led by The Cadmus Group, an Illinois firm, and paid it $126,000 in two phases, records show.

Cadmus titled its winning contract proposal: "Development of a Strategy and Great Lakes Water Application for Approval by the Great Lakes Governors."

The first of its "most significant qualifications" Cadmus cited in its contract proposal was help given Waukesha to get its position before Doyle, a member of the Council of Great Lakes Governors and its current co-chairman.

Said the proposal: "The Cadmus Group prepared the background paper outlining the need for a water withdrawal from Lake Michigan under a cover letter to Governor Doyle."

Cadmus also cited the familiarity that project team member firms and key employees had with the Annex 2001 rule-writing process, including team-member CH2M Hill and the water withdrawal case study it had led for the Great Lakes Protection Fund, records show.

Dan Duchniak, the Waukesha water utility manager, said that despite the proposal’s title, the Cadmus work had been refocused by the utility on water conservation.

Waukesha says it will reduce per capita water use by 20 percent by 2020 through sprinkling limitations and additional measures.

Duchniak said conservation was central to solving Waukesha’s water quality problems, adding that conservation might be part a potential diversion application.

The new Great Lakes water-use rules require any community applying for a diversion to have a conservation plan, but don’t specify what the plan should include.

In January 2006, Duchniak said that the water utility shifted the Cadmus contract to another Illinois firm, GeoSyntec Consultants, because key personnel had switched companies. The GeoSyntec contract is worth $75,000 through December of 2006, records show.

GeoSyntec’s proposal says it will focus on water conservation, work with other governmental bodies and "begin preparation of a formal Lake Michigan water withdrawal proposal, and participate in the discussions with Wisconsin DNR on the level of detail that will be required."

The contract proposal also reinforces the link between conservation planning and a diversion application, saying "The conservation plan developed under Phase 2 [The Cadmus Group’s work] will become a critical component of Waukesha’s water study supply plan and the water withdrawal process."

Applying the NFL team analogy, the utility’s contractors are players; Duchniak, the water utility’s manager, is the team general manager and the city of Waukesha is the owner.

But what about a head coach -- a strategist who makes the game plan a winner, motivates the players, lobbies the officials and deals with the media?

Enter the public relations firm of Martin Schreiber & Associates in May 2005, hired by the water utility at a monthly rate of $5,000, or $40,000 through the end of last year. The PR firm’s rate was doubled to $10,000 per month for 2006, which would mean annual total of $120,000, records show.

While the 2005 contract with the former Wisconsin governor’s PR firm called for general lobbying and media services on "long-term water issues," the 2006 contract listed seven more specific services.

These included framing issues, providing "education and advocacy" for the governor and other officials, writing media talking points and op-ed pieces, and this one:

"Helping the Waukesha Water Utility and GeoSync (sic) prepare an application for Lake Michigan Surface Water."

Duchniak reiterated that Waukesha’s work was focused on water conservation.

"I must stress," Duchniak said by e-mail, "to date GeoSyntec and MSA [Martin Schreiber & Associates] have concentrated on the conservation plan because there is NO application for Great Lakes water. The conservation plan will be necessary whatever the long term [supply] answer is."

Sign up now for a free e-mail election service from

Click here.