What's News in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

Historical Water Agreement Impacts 2008 Budget
YEAR 2008
One of the major projects the Village will complete in 2008 involves the rerouting of sanitary sewer and the abandonment of a Village wastewater treatment plant. The project is one component of a multi-year story centered on water. It is required as part of an agreement that ensures Pleasant Prairie residents continued access to fresh water from Lake Michigan.

During the early 1980’s, the Village learned that water drawn from their groundwater wells in the Village contained the element Radium at levels four times higher than allowed by the federal government. Radium is a radioactive, metallic element that is naturally occurring in the area and can cause cancer. With this knowledge, Village officials began looking for alternative water supply options to provide safe drinking water to the impacted portions of the Village.

The Village investigated the possibility of treating the contaminated groundwater, but found that the expense was far too great and that a radioactive sludge byproduct would be created in the process. The Village also investigated bringing water from Lake Michigan to the impacted areas. Despite the proximity of the water supply, using Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, as an alternate water supply would prove to be quite challenging.

As an integral part of the Great Lakes Basin, Lake Michigan is a valuable source of fresh surface water. At roughly the same time that the Village learned about Radium in the groundwater, more attention was being paid to preserving the freshwater resources in the Great Lakes Basin. A council of eight Governors from US states and two Premiers from Canadian provinces surrounding the Great Lakes created a Great Lakes Charter in 1985. The purpose of the Charter was to protect the levels and flows of the lakes and their tributaries, so that no harm would come to such a valuable, freshwater resource from overuse or depletion.

In addition to the Charter, Section 1109, of the Water Resources Development Act, was passed by Congress in 1986. This Section made unanimous approval from all eight Great Lakes governors a requirement before any water from the Great Lakes could be “diverted” outside of the Great Lakes Basin. The Charter defined a diversion as “…a transfer of water from the Great Lakes Basin into another watershed, or from the watershed of one of the Great Lakes into that of another.”

Pleasant Prairie found itself in a very unique situation. Though the Village is immediately adjacent to Lake Michigan, the entire Village does not lie within the Great Lakes Basin. A sub-continental divide runs through the middle of the Village, effectively splitting it into two separate watersheds. Water east of the divide flows into the Great Lakes Basin. Water west of the divide runs into the Mississippi River watershed. Because the areas in the Village that had Radium in their groundwater supply were located outside of the Great Lakes Basin, Pleasant Prairie’s use of Lake Michigan as an alternate water supply would be considered a diversion.

Pleasant Prairie would need approval from all eight Great Lakes governors in order to supply the western side of the Village with water from Lake Michigan. While five of the Great Lakes governors responded almost immediately with their approval, three did not. One state simply did not respond, while another, Michigan, expressed great concern over the request. The third state’s response was dependant on Michigan’s response.

For months, meetings and information sharing took place between Wisconsin and Michigan. One of Michigan’s concerns was that Pleasant Prairie would draw water from Lake Michigan, yet would not be returning the water to the Lake after treatment. Pleasant Prairie had just built two new wastewater treatment plants that deposited treated water into the Mississippi River watershed (not the Great Lakes Basin). And the Village would hold debt on the two plants through the year 2010.

In order to address Michigan’s concerns and gain approval for the diversion, Pleasant Prairie proposed a “return-flow” agreement. The agreement ensured that once the debt was satisfied for the two, wastewater treatment plants, the plants would be abandoned. Pleasant Prairie would reroute the sanitary sewer towards Kenosha for treatment and the water’s eventual return to Lake Michigan, its original source. Ultimately, with the return-flow agreement, approval for the diversion was obtained, and the Village was able to supply the western side of Pleasant Prairie with safe, potable water from Lake Michigan.

YEAR 2008
With 2010 approaching, the Village is now taking steps towards fulfilling its end of the agreement by rerouting the sanitary sewer and retiring the 73-1 Wastewater Treatment Plant. Both treatment plants (73-1 and Sewer D) will be retired by the last day of 2010. During 2008, $4.5 million will be borrowed through TID#2 to complete a portion of the work. The investment will help ensure the continued availability of safe drinking water for the western half of Pleasant Prairie.

More information related to the Great Lakes Charter is available online at www.cglg.org. A book about the topic has also been written. GREAT LAKES WATER WARS, authored by Peter Annin, takes a detailed look at several historical factors that affect the world’s supply of fresh surface water. A specific chapter is dedicated solely to Pleasant Prairie’s unique situation and goes into more detail about obtaining the water diversion permit.

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