Waukesha Water Utility Seeks 25% Rate Increase, Lake Michigan Water

City seeks approval to use Lake Michigan water to comply with federal mandates on radium levels

The Waukesha Water Commission will submit a rate increase to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, requesting authorization to raise rates by 25%. These fund are required in part to show lenders the ability to repay loans to cover large projects to comply with federal mandates on radium.

The City of Waukesha currently faces a 2018 deadline to fully comply with federal standards on radium in drinking water. In the City’s public notice, the utility discloses that water currently exceeds the maximum contaminent level for radium. It further outlines current practices in place to remove radium via treatment with hydrous manganese oxide. The City is currently meeting interim levels by blending and dilution.

The City has submitted a request to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)  to use Lake Michigan water as the first option to address the radium problem. In order to use water from Lake Michigan, the City must receive the approval of the DNR as well as the Governor. The City would then need the approval from the Great Lakes Commission. The Great Lakes Compact is a interstate charter which largely prevents diverting water from the area. Additionally the Compact requires that most of the water taken be returned to the lakes as treated waste water.

While this is a very expensive option, it is thought to be less expensive than well water treatment options. Construction costs for a pipeline to deliver water from the lake are estimated between $164M and $312M, depending on location. Alternatively, installing radium treatment at the City’s well is estimated to cost at least $189M, $25M more than the lower end of the estimate to deliver lake water.

During this same time period, the City will undergo replacing old water pipes within the city.

Water rates, currently averaging $261/year are expected to more than double in the next ten years. Absent federal grants, they are likely to nearly quadruple in this same time period according to a preliminary financing plan.