Is the city of Waukesha about to make a big mistake? Waukesha needed to find a new source of water because the deep aquifer on which it relies is growing too contaminated to continue use it. The Environmental Protection Agency even said the city was in violation of the federal radium standard before Waukesha started diluting its water with water from the shallow aquifer. That solution is unsustainable, too, as it will have long-term environmental effects on the surface water features of Waukesha County and surrounding communities.

The city of Waukesha seemed to solve its water issues by reaching an agreement with the city of Oak Creek to pipeline water from Lake Michigan to Waukesha. The city of Waukesha would then use the water and then return it (100 percent of it) to Lake Michigan via the Root River. The city of Waukesha received all the necessary approvals for the diversion, including from all of the governors of the Great Lakes states and the Department of Natural Resources.

Then the city of Milwaukee decided to offer to sell water to Waukesha. This is ironic, since Milwaukee actually opposed Waukesha’s application to get water from Lake Michigan. The agreement with Oak Creek expired and now Waukesha is going to purchase from Milwaukee at a cheaper rate. According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, the pipeline construction costs will be $40 million cheaper, and Waukesha families expect to be able to save about $200 each annually.

Is this really a good idea? As mentioned before, the city of Milwaukee actually fought Waukesha’s application. And, as the Milwaukee Business Journal reminds us, members of the Milwaukee Common Council actually tried to get Waukesha to make payments beyond the cost of water as an economic development penalty. Milwaukee has already stuck New Berlin for an extra $1.5 million.

What happens when Milwaukee is run by a less-benign leader than Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett? When it’s someone who is actually openly hostile to Waukesha and, using the water as a weapon, tries to get Waukesha to concede on issues beyond the cost of water? Will Waukesha have to follow Milwaukee’s lead on regional transit, or will Waukesha’s public housing policies be dictated by the Milwaukee Common Council?

Whatever assurances Waukesha receives from Milwaukee now on those points needs to be understood in the context of Milwaukee’s earlier opposition to Waukesha’s application for Great Lakes water. Milwaukee can’t be trusted in the long term to support the interests of Waukesha.

When Milwaukee does hold Waukesha’s water hostage in the future, will Waukesha build another pipeline? Even if it wasn’t cost prohibitive, who will Waukesha find to be a seller after the way the city treated Oak Creek?

Saving that $40 million by buying water from Milwaukee may sound good to Waukesha now, but will be the real long term cost?