Waukesha Water Diversion
The following are some FAQ’s meant to bring the Waterford Waterway Management District (WWMD) members up to speed on what the WWMD has done, and will do, regarding the Waukesha water diversion project that went into effect on October 9, 2023.
Frequently Asked Questions
For further questions or information, please contact our District’s Secretary, Commissioner Dan Schultz
What is the Waukesha water diversion?
The City of Waukesha for decades has used wells for water and then placed treated wastewater into the Fox River, increasing the flow rate and volume downstream into our impoundment. Due to poor water quality, Waukesha, in October of 2023 switched from well water to Lake Michigan water. As a result, Federal requirements required Waukesha to return treated wastewater to Lake Michigan instead of the Fox River.
What impact could we see on our water level?
It's hard to say with certainty. A complete study was done by engineering firms and the DNR with unfortunately no definitive results ever being determined. It appears likely that it will stay on the "low" end of what we typically see now in the dry summer months.
Could the WWMD raise the level at our dam to compensate for the loss of water?
It is not possible to raise the water level of our impoundment without modifications to the dam.
Who is the owner of the dam?
The dam is owned by Racine County. It is the county’s responsibility to request a dam order change.
Who runs the Waterford dam?
The Wisconsin DNR issues a dam order and Racine County is responsible for operating the dam in accordance with the order.
What does our operational dam order say?
There is a requirement to send 37 cfs (cubic feet per second) through the dam at all times.
What is the minimum level required by our dam order?
772.63 feet above sea level
What is our water level currently?
It is a fairly consistent 773.5 feet above sea level. Real Time Waterford Dam Water Level Data
How much water pre-diversion flowed through the Waterford dam
44-55 cubic feet per second on average.
How much water did we lose when Waukesha shut off the water supply?
8 cubic feet per second. That brings us to 36-47 cubic feet per second.
Is flow rate or minimum level controlling?
Unfortunately, the flow rate is controlling. Even if we reach our minimum level of 772.63 feet. We still have to send 37 cfs through the dam.
What is the lowest flow rate we have ever experienced?
The data on the lowest flow rate since 1994 was July 17, 2012. It was 32-42 cfs. The range is due to interpolation between flow rate data at the Waukesha and New Munster dams. The Waterford dam does not have flow rate data. If those flowage rates were to happen today, the calculated flow would be 24-34 cfs. Our impoundment would start losing water and the water level would drop.
Is there any hope of increased water flow?
DNR water engineers have stated there is a possibility that as Waukesha abandons its wells, the water table will recover, and more water will naturally make its way into the Fox River and we might not actually see a full 8 cfs water supply decrease.
What happens when we receive less than 37 cfs?
A rule of thumb is lake level will drop 1 inch per hour, per acre, for every 1 cfs loss of flow. We would expect to lose water when flow drops to the low end of its new rate of 36-47 cfs. Using this assumption, our impoundment is 1100 acres, on days when flow is 36 cfs, we could expect to lose 1 inch in 1100 hours, or 46 days.
Why don't we just change our dam order?
A formal application to the DNR to change the operational dam order at the Waterford Dam would trigger many different entities to weigh in. Our neighbors south of the dam would likely object. Wastewater plants downstream require a certain flow to "dilute" the wastewater they place into the river, the DNR fisheries department would have to study the effects of less water on fish, DNR water quality experts would study the request, and the DNR navigation department could also recommend to deny the request. The decision makers at Racine County are willing to make a request to change the dam order, but only if the downstream stakeholders agree. At this point, with this only being a potential problem, with estimates and calculations not definitive, the objections from downstream stakeholders, and lack of consensus, there is not sufficient cause for Racine County to initiate a dam order change. Further complicating the process, if our dam order is changed, it would have to be accompanied by a dam order change downstream in Rochester. If actual conditions this summer show unacceptable water levels, we will have a stronger argument for action.
How long is the process to change the dam order?
The process, if successful, could take up to 2 years. The WWMD was aware of the diversion. In 2022, we started the process of learning everything we could about our dam, estimated effects of the diversion, and possible solutions.
Why don’t we start the process now, so we are prepared for the low water level situation that could occur in the summer 2024?
With only assumptions about the effects of the reduced Waukesha water flow and lack of agreement with stakeholders downstream, Racine County is unwilling to take action.
Can anything good come from the diversion?
Whereas the Waukesha’s waste water was treated in accordance with regulations and deemed safe for placing in the Fox River, there were still nutrients that were introduced into the Fox River. We may enjoy cleaner water and less aquatic plant growth due to less nutrients for them to feed on.
What are we doing?
The WWMD going forward will be tracking water levels. We are in the process of developing a user-friendly spreadsheet that will show the difference between dam gauge height levels pre and post diversion and its relationship with flow from upstream. We continue to keep “beating the drum" with continued updates and communication with the Town of Waterford, Village of Waterford, the Racine County board of Supervisors, the Fox River Commission and the Racine County Land and Water Conservation Committee.
If low water levels this summer, or in future dry summers, are realized, this will negatively impact safety, the value of your property, and your enjoyment of the waterway we love. We will make sure you can make your voice heard by providing you the contact information of decision makers at the local, county and state level to encourage action on their part. realized, this will negatively impact safety, the value of your property, and your enjoyment of the waterway we love. We will make sure you can make your voice heard by providing you the contact information of decision makers at the local, county and state level to encourage action on their part.