Green infrastructure is a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing stormwater in dense urban landscapes. It is inspired by natural processes that mimic ecosystem services rather than attempting to control nature. Green infrastructure practices allow stormwater to contribute to a functioning watershed that resides within the urban landscape, unlike gray infrastructure (conventional piped drainage such as storm drains), which is designed to move stormwater away from the urban landscape.
The City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District are national leaders in the adoption of green infrastructure. Sharing in the vision that green infrastructure is a cost-effective approach for managing stormwater and improving the water quality of our lakes and rivers, the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District have made tremendous strides to add city-wide green infrastructure projects. In June 2019, the Common Council approved the City's Green Infrastructure Plan. Under the plan, all large developments will be required to capture the first 1/2 inch of rainfall using green infrastructure. It also prioritizes additional funding for green streets, schoolyards, and parking lots. This plan builds on previous efforts, described in detail on Milwaukee’s Green Infrastructure and Climate Adaptation page. Details of other City green infrastructure efforts such as the ECO Design Guidelines and ECO Toolkit can be found on the City's page.
City of Milwaukee
Milwaukee’s Green Streets and Stormwater Management Program provides street-focused stormwater strategies to improve water quality and reduce polluted stormwater runoff. The program’s strategies are considered when designing a street for repaving or reconstruction projects to maximize the sustainable benefit of our street network. Milwaukee’s HOME GR/OWN initiative redevelops vacant city lots into useful green urban spaces. One of the HOME GR/OWN initiative’s shining achievements is Fondy Park, a previously vacant 3/5 acre city lot that now contains 19 stormwater trees and a 2,700 square foot bioswale. Fondy Park has the ability to capture and infiltrate over 21,850 gallons of stormwater each rain event.
In 2018, a city ordinance was revised to require all large developments and redevelopments of an acre or more capture at least the first 1/2 inch of rainfall using green infrastructure. In June of 2019, the City of Milwaukee came out with its official Green Infrastructure Plan. The Plan guides the City to prioritize locations for the implementation of green infrastructure, identifies the various green infrastructure practices, addresses capture goals, identifies financing mechanisms for funding green infrastructure, develops suggestions for policy changes within the City, and recognizes stakeholders within the City, county, and private and non-profit communities that can work together to accomplish these goals.
Main highlights of the Green Infrastructure Plan include the greening of schools, streets, libraries, development, lots, and jobs. Implementation of these projects will include green schoolyard projects, the addition of bioswales and permeable pavement to streets, green infrastructure on libraries such as the green roof installed on Central Library, and the removal and replacement of pavement with green infrastructure and landscaping. The City is committed to developing an inclusive workforce to create and maintain these projects with organizations like Walnut Way's Blue Skies Landscaping and Groundwork Milwaukee. The Green Infrastructure Plan lays the foundation for Milwaukee to become a greener, more resilient city.
Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
Envisioning a healthier Milwaukee region and a cleaner Lake Michigan, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has transformed its approach to managing stormwater in sanitary and combined stormwater/sanitary pipes with the use of green infrastructure. By the year 2035, MMSD plans to create enough green infrastructure in their service area to capture 740 million gallons of water every time it rains. To meet this assertive goal, MMSD has developed unique programs that have taken region-wide revitalization efforts and brought them down to the individual’s front yard.
Highlighted here are a few of MMSD’s unique green infrastructure efforts. More information about their green infrastructure programs, achievements, funding opportunities, and effective practices can be found on their Fresh Coast Guardinans webpage.
MMSD’s innovative Greenseams® Program is a land acquisition program that identifies and preserves open spaces for flood mitigation, water quality improvements, and habitat restoration. Habitats are restored, and these natural open spaces act as sponges, absorbing water before it floods downstream neighbors. Since its inception, Greenseams® has preserved hundreds of acres of open space along streams, shorelines, and wetlands. Understanding that highlighting green infrastructure projects throughout the region can inspire others, MMSD created the Green Luminary Awards. This quarterly award spotlights successful green infrastructure projects throughout the region. Hoping to continue the trend to inspire other green infrastructure projects, MMSD has opened a Green Infrastructure Center of Excellence. The Center offers free services to the public through green infrastructure design, workshops, training and more.
Many other non-government organizations are taking a lead to implement green infrastructure. The Milwaukee non-profit organization ReFlo has helped capture thousands of gallons of stormwater throughout Milwaukee with a large breadth of projects ranging from small urban gardens to massive stormwater cisterns. ReFlo has also developed a handbook for green infrastructure for Milwaukee Area Schools, which provides information and resources to assist schools with the process of successfully implementing and maintaining green infrastructure projects. The guide also encompasses permitting and approvals, school curriculum connections, impact plans, case studies, and options for funding.
Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc., referred to as Sweet Water, is another Milwaukee non-profit dedicated to restoring the Greater Milwaukee watersheds. Sweet Water’s Mini-Grant Program distributes grants of $1,000 - $5,000 to support local, grassroots efforts that make use of green infrastructure practices or other approaches that improve water quality, enhance environmental conservation, restore aquatic habitat, or educate people about these issues.
Groundwork Milwaukee (GWM) is a non-profit that brings about the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the physical environment by developing community-based partnerships that empower people, businesses and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being. Amongst their many programs, GWM partners with Milwaukee youth to implement green infrastructure practices through the City of Milwaukee. As of today, GWM’s Milwaukee Urban Garden Network has implemented 70+ gardens containing a variety of green infrastructure practices throughout the city.
One of the fastest growing trends in the landscape industry is the utilization of the green roof. Green roofs enable stormwater infiltration and evapotranspiration, and provide other benefits such as habitat, aesthetic appeal, and reduced energy costs by acting as an additional layer of insulation. The green roof trend has certainly taken off in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Public Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Library, Rockwell Automation, Global Water Center, UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, Alverno College, and Northwestern Mutual Building are just a few buildings in Milwaukee with green roofs that capture millions of gallons of water annually and prevent it from entering the sewer system. The Rockwell Automation building alone is designed to manage 1.3 million gallons annually!
Work to be Done
The need to protect and conserve the waters surrounding the city has given rise to the realization that communities, businesses and civic leaders must collaborate and become more proactive in their policies and actions. While Milwaukee has made strides to adopt green infrastructure, there is more work to be done. According to Milwaukee’s sustainability plan, ReFresh Milwaukee, the volume of stormwater captured through green infrastructure should increase by 10 percent annually. This goal can only be reached with increased awareness and implementation of green infrastructure's best management practices that conserve and protect our water resources.