By Jim Villa for   Published Jun 01, 2004 at 5:06 AM

{image1} The ever-evolving story around the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's dumping of sewage into Lake Michigan and area rivers and streams has lent itself to a variety of solutions: dig another deep tunnel, scrap the tunnel, or even a retreat on combining storm and sewage sewers. Many metro-area legislators, some of whom fought the fight the first time in the "sewer wars," have no interest in another great political battle.

So when recent rains sent hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into rivers and Lake Michigan, just about every person in southeastern Wisconsin lamented as to how to fix the problem. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett suggested auditing the operations of MMSD. Not a bad idea, and a politically smart move by the mayor considering MMSD was a regular whipping boy of his campaign. Unfortunately, people in Milwaukee want a solution to what has become a real stinker of a problem. Another audit won't do.

State and federal regulators, as well as elected officials also began wringing their hands almost as soon as the district began ridding itself of the excess sewage. State Sen. Neal Kedzie, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, put out a press release admonishing MMSD and calling for yet another round of legislative hearings.

All the hot air from the politicians is undoubtedly going to result in an Ozone Action Day ... but still no solution to the sewage dumping situation in Milwaukee.

Before we knock the pols too hard, however, we must remember that for the last 12 years we had a mayor that not only did not improve the situation but made it much worse. John Norquist, yes, husband to environmentalist Susan Mudd, systematically built an empire of MMSD through his appointment authority of district commissioners but did nothing to ensure the deep tunnel wasn't just a way to get deep into the pockets of taxpayers while continuing the massive environmental disaster of dumping raw and blended sewage into our waterways.

The three-term mayor's MMSD record is abysmal and leaves behind a legacy that gives Barrett and Council President Willy Hines a golden opportunity to show themselves as a new class of leadership for the city of Milwaukee. That is, of course, if they and their colleagues are willing to stand up for expert-driven solutions and cast off the remnants of the Norquist machine.

We need a solution now. So with the help of some friends and colleagues, including former Milwaukee County Supervisor Rob McDonald, I propose B.A.D. - "Bathroom Action Days." B.A.D. would be similar to Ozone Action Days with public service announcements to help educate the public on how to save the environment. Also like Ozone Action Days, B.A.D. would have a scale outlining the threat of potential sewage dumping and for the most severe days, a severe action - no flushing.

That's right. Taxpayers can actually take matters into their own hands...or into their own water closets, at least. When rains pour and the threat of sewage dumping looms, citizens will be strongly encouraged to refrain from flushing so as to slow down the pressure on the entire system.

Citizens united and their mantra can be, "When the waters rush, we won't flush."

As ridiculous as it sounds, it fits into the ludicrous logic of the whole situation.

Last week we learned that the Sierra Club is considering suing WE Energies. WE plans on using water from Lake Michigan for cooling at its proposed Oak Creek power plant. The water would be returned to Lake Michigan clean, but at a slightly warmer temperature.

Oh, the horror of it all.

But guess what? The real horror is the absolute hypocrisy of the Sierra Club. You see, the Sierra Club's attorney, Mr. Grzezinski, is the chairman of MMSD Needless to say, the temperature of the stuff Mr. Grzezinski is dumping into the lake is a lot hotter than the clean water proposed to be returned to Lake Michigan by WE Energies.

And can you imagine the horror in the Norquist/Mudd household if Mudd's Citizens for a Better Environment had bothered to raise questions about Hizzoner's sacred cow pie during his tenure!

While B.A.D. may not pass the smell test, is it really worse than the lack of ideas currently swirling down the deep tunnel?

All everyone needs to do is close the lid and skip the flush. I can almost see the public service announcements now.

Regardless, the situation is a call for real leadership for the city of Milwaukee. Norquist's failures provide a real opportunity to show the taxpayers that times have changed -- in the halls of city government as well as county government.

- Villa is a principal of The Markesan Group, a grassroots organization firm in Milwaukee. Villa is a veteran Wisconsin political operative, having worked for Gov. Tommy Thompson and Sen. Alberta Darling and engineered Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's re-election.

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

Click here.