New Waukesha water a 'whole lot better' and 'far superior' to old supply, some say

Cavalier Johnson, City of Milwaukee Mayor, left, toasts with Shawn Reilly, City of Waukesha Mayor, during a gathering to celebrate the completion of Waukesha's Lake Michigan Water Project at the new Booster Pumping Station in Waukesha, Wis. on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.
Cavalier Johnson, City of Milwaukee Mayor, left, toasts with Shawn Reilly, City of Waukesha Mayor, during a gathering to celebrate the completion of Waukesha's Lake Michigan Water Project at the new Booster Pumping Station in Waukesha, Wis. on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

WAUKESHA - As Waukesha's transition from groundwater to Lake Michigan water reaches an end, most folks have wet their whistle often enough to have an opinion.

At least according to all but a few responding to a mid-October Milwaukee Journal Sentinel survey, about a week before the transition was completed, the new water source tastes fine. But other transition questions, including whether residents will use a water softener, were less uniform. The transition also seemed to cause few, if any problems, for almost all respondents.

Here's what we asked about the key points of interest, and here's a selection of answers from roughly three dozen total respondents.

What's your reaction to the taste of the water so far?

Taste is a matter of taste, but most like it, if they noticed at all. (Note: city officials had warned about a chlorine taste early in the transition, so some of these responses reflect that aspect.)

"A whole lot better than our water with water softener! I grew up in Milwaukee and moved to Waukesha 6 years ago and I had a hard time getting use to water out here! Love that Lake Michigan water is back for me." — Sue Grimm, Legend Hill Lane

"It is far superior to the old supply. Tastes good without the filter. No chlorine taste." — Douglas Couillard, near Waukesha North High School

"Taste is improved from old wells." — Cindi Lockerby, west of downtown

"The taste is fine. There is a slight difference, but not much. I'm not sure I would have noticed the difference if I didn't know about the water changeover." — Steve Brewer, central Waukesha

"We haven't noticed a difference. Now, we have a Culligan water system, so maybe that is why. But if we weren't told that the change happened, we wouldn't have known." — Kristin Hansen, northwest near Wales

"Do not really like it. Regardless of the temporary extra chlorine. We will drink bottled water." — Jerry Jones, near City Hall

"It stills tastes pretty bad. It tasted fine before the transition but now it has a strong chemical taste." — Hallie Bintz, near Carroll University

The overall positive results early in the transition (only three disliked the taste) could be attributed to some last-minute adjustments in strategy employed by Waukesha Water Utility, which emptied the above-ground reservoirs and refilled them before the lake water was released into the system. WWU general manager Dan Duchniak said the utility decided to temporarily adjust the disinfectant mix locally to reduce the chlorine taste while the transition was underway.

Did you experience problems, and have they cleared up?

Leading up to Oct. 9, Waukesha Water Utility officials had repeatedly warned that the opening of hydrants to pull the water forward combined with the influx of lake water might cause some problems, including discolored tap water and clogged filters from loosed sediments.

But for most respondents, that simply wasn't the case.

"I was ready to drain the pipes outside to avoid particles clogging the filters inside, etc., but that did not happen." — Kristin Hansen

"So far so good! No discoloration of settlement! Slight smell for the first couple of days occasionally. Little bit of a difference in taste but not a lot! Not looking forward to our bills going up that much though. It already has increased by a lot!" — Linda Ruthenberg, between Sunset Drive and Highway 59

"None! We were prepared for discolored water and sediment but none occurred." — Ann Knabe, west edge of Waukesha

"No, primarily because we ran our irrigation system the morning the new water "arrived" at our location and that seemed to prevent any sediment that was being flushed from the mains from entering our home." — Carole Henning, Fox Lake Village

"The water did run yellow for a while but I knew it would so I avoided laundry for a while. No problems there." — Hallie Bintz

Will you use a water softener for the lake water?

The water softener question was naturally complex. That's because, despite Waukesha's relative "hard" groundwater supply, some people never used one. Others who did plan to use the appliance to further reduce the lake water's mineral content, which is about 60% softer than the former aquifer water.

In all, better than half the respondents said they won't use a softener. About one-third will. The rest were undecided.

"We haven't run our water softener and the water suds up just as it did with the softened Waukesha water." — Julie Pekarske, near Carroll University

"No, we turned ours off and bypassed. No need." — Ann Knabe

"No, not at all. Can't wait to get rid of softener!" — Sue Grimm

"Maybe, not sure yet." — Pat Martin, northeast Waukesha

"Yes. After one week without, we could feel the difference, especially in the shower. I had itchy skin almost immediately without the softener." — Carole Henning

One piece of information that may have been lost in the shuffle of information ahead of the transition is this tidbit from the Waukesha Water Utility: For those who have water softeners installed but don't plan on using them anymore, best practices suggest having them removed.

"The water softener should be physically removed or disconnected if the owner has decided they do not want to continue using the softener," Duchniak said. "If not, the valve may ultimately fail which could lead to water quality issues within their internal plumbing."

Transition completed sooner than expected

The $286 million pipeline system, which includes 36 miles of infrastructure built over three years, has been fully functional since Oct. 9, but Waukesha Water Utility Crews had to undergo the process of ushering the water into service areas at the edges of the system.

As of Oct. 25, the work was complete, about two weeks earlier than planned. Based on earlier estimates, the target date was Nov. 7.

Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or Follow him on Twitter at  @jariccioli.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Waukesha residents give opinions on new Lake Michigan water supply