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Climate Adaptation & Green Infrastructure

Climate Adaptation and Green Infrastructure in Milwaukee

Milwaukee is situated on one of the largest fresh water bodies in the world - Lake Michigan and the rivers that feed into it. This amenity provides many opportunities for recreation and commerce. Protecting our lakes is critical for the city and for the region. Citizens, business, and government must take individual and community responsibility for keeping our lake and rivers clean.


Green Infrastructure Plan (New!)

IGreen Infrastructure Plan covern June 2019, the Common Council adopted Milwaukee's Green Infrastructure Plan.  Under the Plan, all large developments and redevelopments are required to capture the first 1/2 inch of rainfall usign green infrastructure. It also prioritizes additional funding for green streets, schoolyards, and parking lots. The Framework was the product of over one year of stakeholder meetings with environmental groups, developers, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, various City departments, the UWM-School of Freshwater Sciences, and Marquette University Water Law and Policy Initiative. Once the Framework is adopted,  the City will publish a final plan in February 2019 with priority project locations.



Rainwater Harvesting GuidebookResidential Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook
ECO partnered with UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences graduate student Eric Bunke to develop this Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook. This guide will walk you through the steps of safely harvesting, storing and using rainwater. The guidebook defines terms, identifies local, city and state codes and ordinances related to residential rainwater harvesting, gives 'pro tips' for harvesting and resuing rainwater and lists local resources for more information. Download your own copy of the Rainwater Collection Guidelines For Milwaukee Residents.


Green Infrastructure Baseline Inventory
The ReFresh Milwaukee plan's Water Chapter establishes a goal to "Reduce stormwater runoff and clear water from entering sewer system". Targets toward achieving this goal include

  1. establishing baseline measures of impervious surface and green infrastructure,
  2. creating a City green infrastructure policy plan, and
  3. increasing the volume of stormwater runoff captured through green infrastructure by 10% annually.

The Environmental Collaboration Office, with financial support from the Fund for Lake Michigan, recently completed a Green Infrastructure Baseline Inventory to satisfy the first target above. This report documents existing green infrastructure with 14 million gallons of stormwater capture capacity in the City of Milwaukee. It also identifies impervious surfaces at 45.5% of city area and 163.4 miles of shorelines within city limits. The report serves as the foundation for the City's forthcoming Green Infrastructure Policy Plan.

Green Streets
The City of Milwaukee is designing city streets to reduce flooding risks, improve the quality of our lakes and rivers, and help the City adapt to a changing climate. Through guidance outlined in the City's Green Streets Stormwater Management Plan, as streets are scheduled to be repaired or replaced, the City is systematically evaluating opportunities to install new green infrastructure assets, such as bioretention basins in street medians and tree trenches near sidewalks. The Green Street Stormwater Management Plan was funded by the WI Coastal Management Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Green Infrastructure Map

Green Infrastructure Map
The City of Milwaukee's Green Infrastructure GIS Tool is publicly available. Through open data sharing, the goal is to facilitate the advancement of green infrastructure planning in the City of Milwaukee, and ultimately, make the City more sustainable and resilient.

Note: The Green Infrastructure tool is listed under Map Applications and operates best with Internet Explorer.

The City of Milwaukee is exploring cost effective and innovative approaches for managing stormwater to help neighborhoods be more resilient to extreme storm events. One approach that is being studied is the BaseTernTM, an underground stormwater management or rainwater harvesting structure created from the former basement of an abandoned home that has been slated for demolition. By using this existing basement cavity, the City saves on demolition costs of the old structure and the construction of the new one. The structure would be underground and covered with turf to fit safely within the neighborhood. The preliminary prototypes can hold as much water as 600 hundred rain barrels! Learn more by checking out the Feasibility Study and BaseTernTM FAQs.

Click to view Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative 2014 Sustainable Municipal Water Management Public Evaluation Report Milwaukee, WI

Sustainable Municipal Water Management Public Evaluation Report
The 2014 Sustainable Municipal Water Management Public Evaluation Report (SPER) of Milwaukee has been developed for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) in the context of the Sustainable Municipal Water Management (SMWM) declaration. This report is based on six axes: Water Conservation and Efficiency, Shared Water Stewardship, Shoreline and Waterways Restoration, Water Pollution Prevention, Water Protection Planning and Water Preparedness for Climate Change. Download the report here.



Green Infrastructure in Milwaukee

Department of Public Works Stormwater Management Program
The City of Milwaukee's Department of Public Works Stormwater Management Program (SWMP) seeks to reduce the amount of polluted stormwater runoff that enters local waterways. The SWMP reviews and approves stormwater management plans submitted as required by Chapter 120 of the City of Milwaukee Code of Ordinances. The SWMP website contains valuable information about pollution prevention, management plans, erosion control, and the Stormwater Management Charge.

Reduce Your Stormwater Bill with Green Infrastructure
The City of Milwaukee finances stormwater management projects, including sewers, green infrastructure, and urban forestry through a Stormwater Management Charge. Commercial property owners can receive a credit on this quarterly charge by adding green infrastructure to their property. This worksheet provides additional information and allows you to apply for a credit.

NEW - Permanent Medication Collection Sites
The City of Milwaukee has instituted permanent collection sites for disposing of expired and unused medications. Complete information about the program can be found at the Health Department, and addresses for the drop-off locations can be found at Milwaukee Police Department.

Keys to Improving Water Quality

  • Reducing Non-Point Source Pollution that occurs when stormwater or melting snow picks up pollutants and delivers them to our rivers and lakes. These pollutants include grease and oil from cars, salt, excessive fertilizers and herbicides, and bacteria from animal waste. Controlling non-point source pollution requires a community effort because the pollutants come from many sources.
  • Reducing Sewer Overflows that occur when when more stormwater enters the sewer system than the system can handle. Reducing the amount of stormwater flow into the sewer system can reduce the risk of these overflows. This can be done by increasing green space or through downspout disconnection in the combined sewer area. This area extends from the lakefront to the east, 43rd Street to the west, Capital Drive to the north, and Oklahoma Avenue to the south.

How the City is Leading

  • Reducing Non-Point Source Pollution. The City has constructed two major bioretention facilities along Canal Street in the Menomonee Valley. The facilities remove contaminants from stormwater before the flows are discharged into the Menomonee River.
  • Reducing Sewer Overflows. Mayor Barrett has directed City departments to reduce by 15% the amount of stormwater runoff from city properties and encourages businesses and residents to do the same. The Public Works facility on 35th and Capital manages its stormwater on-site in an attractive pond. In 2007, the Department of Public Works installed a green roof on the municipal building at 809 N. Broadway.
  • Reducing Flow of Stormwater into Sewers. The City has funded a variety of projects to reduce the flow of stormwater into the sewer system. These include downspout disconnections in targeted neighborhoods, foundation drain disconnections in public housing, and adding inlet restrictors on selected streets to reduce the flow of stormwater into the sewer system.
  • Increasing Native Plants. The City is also incorporating more native plants in city boulevards and public green spaces. Native plants soak up more rain water and require less maintenance than non-native species.
  • Constructing Green Roofs & Rain Gardens. The City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District share the vision that green infrastructure is a very cost-effective approach for managing stormwater and improving the water quality of our Lakes and Rivers. The City has installed green roofs on its historic Central Library and municipal building.
  • Reducing Stormwater Runoff into Milwaukee Waterways. The use of bioretention to reduce stormwater runoff and increase on-site stormwater infiltration is incorporated into Green Street projects. These facilities function as filtration/infiltration devices. Roadway runoff enters the bioretention facilities where vegetative plantings filter pollutants and stormwater evaporates or infiltrates into the ground. Green Street projects include:
    • North 92nd Street Greet Street - West Capitol Drive to West Good Hope Road
    • West Grange Avenue Green Street - South 19th Street to South 27th Street
    • North 27th Street Green Street - West Capitol Drive to West Roosevelt Drive

Water Centric City logo with ECO City of Milwaukee


Elizabeth Hittman

(414) 286-5593