By Dennis Shook for   Published Oct 13, 2006 at 5:26 AM
In the same way that nature created Lake Michigan, it might have also created a solution for Waukesha to partake of one of the largest freshwater supplies in the world.

That conduit could be the Root River, which runs diagonally across much of southeastern Wisconsin. That is, if environmental concerns and politics don't get in the way.

The city has already hired consultants to study if the Root River or any other tributaries are suitable to serve as the natural piping system to return used water back to its original source.

Waukesha and New Berlin have both been seeking to access Lake Michigan water since their municipal wells were drilled so deep that their water started to exceed federal allowances for radium. The problem is, all of Waukesha and part of New Berlin lies west of a geographical feature called the sub-continental divide.   So if those communities were to use water from the lake, it is believed it would simply never return to the lake's basin in any form but flow instead west, into the Mississippi River.

The end result would be a reduction in the lake's levels, environmentalists fear.

While Waukesha Water Utility Manager Dan Duchniak has argued his city should be considered part of that basin, the utility has had to make plans in case it cannot get that designation. It is seeking to access up to 20 million gallons of water each day from Milwaukee to help detour the radium issue.

New water usage rules being considered for passage by eight U.S. states and two provinces in Canada that surround the Great Lakes could possibly allow Waukesha and New Berlin to use Lake Michigan water. But in return, they would have to send their wastewater back to Lake Michigan.

Duchniak has pointed out that piping is too expensive to make that a fiscally achievable solution. But the utility might begin to explore using such tributaries as the Root River to send wastewater back to the basin, some Waukesha officials have  told WisPolitics.

While that solution will also have some logistical drawbacks, it could allow for a cost-effective answer to the problem.

A state Legislative Study Committee is currently considering rules for enabling the agreement that the Great Lakes Council recently approved. If Waukesha is able to reach a water agreement under those rules, it could benefit both sides, as Milwaukee would find a much needed new revenue stream.

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas, who earned a degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, said while he supports county communities tapping into the lake, he also wants "the debate to be driven by science, not by politics or emotion. We need to do what's best for the Lake Michigan basin."