A Word on Clean Water

I have been and always will be a champion for clean water.

From investing in the Oak Creek watershed to supporting upgrades to our water and wastewater utilities, we are working every day to ensure this most precious of resources is preserved for generations to come. It’s our duty as elected leaders.

Which brings me to the South Milwaukee water rate increase, which of course is being distorted in information from shadowy, third-party groups attacking our campaign.

Here are the facts, starting with this: The increase was necessary to fund a project mandated by the state, and the increase itself was approved by the state.

  • The South Milwaukee Water Utility recently completed construction of a more than $6 million upgrade to its facility on Lake Michigan. It included the addition of two new above-ground clearwells — tanks that hold treated water — and a new pumping station.
  • The project was mandated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which require that we move these tanks from underground to above ground to prevent groundwater from leaching into the treated water.
  • The project is being funded with a low-interest loan through the federal government’s Safe Drinking Water Act Fund.
  • That loan will be paid back through an approximately 41% increase in water rates, the utility’s first full rate increase since 2010.
  • The Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which regulates all of the state’s water utilities, approved the increase.

The project was necessary, and I stand behind the investment.

But I agree — a 41% increase in a single year is too much, something my wife reminds me of every time we get our water bill.

So here is my solution: Allow communities to “save” for big projects.

By PSC rule, utilities generally are not allowed to set aside funds for future projects. Why not? Why can’t utilities, knowing they are facing a large future rate increase, put in place a series of smaller, much more reasonable, increases over time to cover that cost, and reduce the burden of a single spike?

Families do this every day. We save for big expenses they know are coming in the future. Cars, homes, college education, even vacations — we all try to save money ahead of time to make these purchases reality. Why can’t water utilities do this?

Let’s fix this. Let’s pass legislation that allows utilities the flexibility to fund major expenses like countless families do.

This campaign is about being a champion for cities, bringing common sense solutions to Madison that help us at the local level. It’s about making the state is doing what it can to help us do our jobs in communities across the state — where the real work of government happens. Let’s start here — and help utility rate payers in doing so.

No community should be faced with a 41% increase again, and that starts in the legislature. Let’s get to work.

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