Milwaukee is Stepping into the Green Space

Rainstorms cause quite the challenge for clean water. They can cause flooding and potentially damaging runoff. But many cities are finding solutions to fight this issue.

About eight years ago, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District built a large basin on the Milwaukee County Grounds. It’s a 17-foot-deep sunken pool with grassy walls that, when full, looks like two connected natural lagoons. The basin can hold up to 315 million gallons of water.

The intent of the project is “to store the water upstream so that it’s not in the flood plains, flooding structures downstream.”

The excess water is released gradually into the Menomonee River so it doesn’t flood nearby homes. And capturing the rainwater reduces the probability that Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District will have to release partially treated sewage into Lake Michigan.

MMSD has constructed a number of other projects of this scale. The biggest measure to reduce so-called sewage “overflows” into the lake is the Deep Tunnel. It’s a nearly 30-mile long structure that began operating in 1994.

The tunnel collects untreated sewage and storm water during heavy rains, storing it until it can be treated. Before the tunnel, the region used to have 50 to 60 overflows every year. Now, with the completion of the Deep Tunnel and other projects, the average is one to two overflows.

But not everything that manages how water flows is so large-scale. In comes green infrastructure.

Green infrastructures is managing stormwater where it falls by holding it back in small depressed areas called rain gardens or bioswales that are constructed that hold back stormwater from a property.

Green infrastructure is meant to reduce water pollution and improve water quality in Lake Michigan and local rivers. It takes quite the investment to implement green infrastructure and more and more cities are now giving it thought.

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