Waukesha: A City once known as “The Saratoga of the West” for its delicious water and abounding fresh water springs. Many people would come from afar to drink from its wells, some even believing the water to have medicinal quality. However, as time passed, concrete and industry took over, leading to increased demand for water. In February of 2013, Waukesha City officials weren’t worried about the water supply. Waukesha water customers paid some of the lowest rates in the state. The more a customer used, the lower the rate. Waukesha’s policies actually encouraged lawn watering; you got a credit on your bill if you had water that was used but didn’t end up back in the sewer system. In 1987, Waukesha’s misuse of water led to the state of Wisconsin putting the city of Waukesha on notice because drinking water tested positive for radium levels that were twice the legal limit. Unchecked water pumped from sandstone wells led to depleted aquifers, and the more depleted the aquifers become, the higher the exposure to levels of radium. Waukesha is the poster child of what can happen when you assume that water will always just be there.
Given a deadline of June 2018 by the State of Wisconsin to treat their water supply appropriately, Waukesha decided to sue the EPA by challenging the validity of the 1970 Clean Drinking Water Act, and lost. Waukesha turned to the Great Lakes as a solution. A recent deal was made between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly which led to the City of Milwaukee “selling” water to Waukesha. When lake water begins flowing west to Waukesha in 2022 or 2023, the city will stop using its 10 groundwater wells, including seven wells that draw radium-contaminated water from a deep sandstone aquifer. Waukesha will pay Milwaukee about $3.2 million in 2023 to deliver an average of 6.1 million gallons of lake water a day, as part of the deal, Duchniak said. The payment will increase steadily to about $4.5 million a year at midcentury when Waukesha’s daily average demand is expected to rise to 8.2 million gallons a day; however, once the lake dries up, there’ll be nothing to profit from.