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Students exploring green infrastructure

Green Roof on the City Hall Complex

Children at Fondy Park

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Green infrastructure practices allow stormwater to contribute to a functioning watershed that resides within the urban landscape, unlike gray infrastructure or conventional piped drainage such as storm drains, which is designed to move stormwater away from the urban landscape.

Milwaukee's Leadership

The City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) are national leaders in the adoption of green infrastructure who have made tremendous strides to add city-wide green infrastructure projects. Milwaukee’s Green Streets Stormwater Management Program was developed in 2013 to provide street-focused strategies to improve water quality and reduce polluted stormwater runoff when designing a street for repaving or reconstruction projects. In 2018, a city ordinance was revised to require all large developments and redevelopments of an acre or more to capture at least the first 1/2 inch of rainfall using green infrastructure. 

In June 2019, the Common Council approved the City's Green Infrastructure Plan focused on the greening of schools, streets, libraries, development, lots, and jobs. The Plan prioritizes locations, practices, capture goals, financing mechanisms, policy, and stakeholders and builds on the City's previous green infrastructure and climate adaptation efforts.


Green Rooftops

Green roofs have taken off in Milwaukee, enabling stormwater infiltration and evapotranspiration, habitat, aesthetic appeal, and reduced energy costs by acting as an additional layer of insulation.

Greenseams Program

Duckling in water

MMSD’s Greenseams® Program is a land acquisition program that identifies and preserves natural open spaces for flood mitigation, water quality improvements, and habitat restoration. 

Fresh Coast Resource Center

Menomonee Valley Green Infrastructure

The Fresh Coast Resource Center assists the community with projects like rain barrels and gardens, porous pavement, bioswales, green roofs, native planting, and funding. NEW! Try Fresh Coast Green Communities.

The Principle in Action

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. The use of green infrastructure can improve the water quality of nearby waterways, like lakes and rivers.

City of Milwaukee 

The City's Green Infrastructure Plan outlines green schoolyard projects, the addition of bioswales and permeable pavement to streets, infrastructure on libraries, and the removal and replacement of pavement. The City is also committed to developing an inclusive workforce to create and maintain green infrastructure projects with organizations like Walnut Way's Blue Skies Landscaping and Groundwork Milwaukee

In addition to the Green Infrastructure Plan, Milwaukee’s HOME GR/OWN initiative redevelops vacant city lots into useful, green urban spaces. One achievement is Fondy Park, a previously vacant 3/5 acre City lot that 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.

Green infrastructure resources are available through the ECO Design Guidelines, ECO Neighborhoods Toolkit, and Rainwater Collection Guidelines for Milwaukee Residents & Property Owners.

Fondy Farmers Market in the Park

Farmers Market at Fondy Park


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 its 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.

Rain Garden in a Yard

Rain Garden Installation (Photo: MMSD)



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.

Students learning in an outdoor classroom with Reflo

Students learning in an outdoor classroom at Hawthorne School (Photo: Reflo)


Sweet Water

Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc., referred to as Sweet Water, is a Milwaukee non-profit dedicated to restoring the Greater Milwaukee watersheds. Sweet Water’s Mini-Grant Program distributes grants of up to $1,500 to non-profit organizations, community, and civic groups for projects or activities that advance Sweet Water's mission and vision. Priority is given to community outreach and engagement projects for stormwater management. 

Projects are located in the five Greater Milwaukee Watersheds (the Kinnickinnic, Menomonee, Milwaukee, Root, and Oak Creek) as well as the direct drainage area to Lake Michigan.

Green Infrastructure at Bradford Beach

Green Infrastructure at Bradford Beach


Groundwork Milwaukee

Groundwork Milwaukee 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.

Among its many programs, Groundwork partners with Milwaukee youth to implement green infrastructure practices through the City of Milwaukee. As of today, Groundwork's Milwaukee Urban Garden Network has implemented 70+ gardens containing a variety of green infrastructure practices throughout the city.

Community gardening


Clean Wisconsin

Clean Wisconsin is a non-profit that engages residents in partnership with MMSD to address stormwater issues through the installation of rain barrels, rain gardens, and other green infrastructure practices. Clean Wisconsin also organizes Green Infrastructure Workshops for potential implementers such as residents, community organizations, houses of worshop, municipalities, developers, and businesses. 

Further, Clean Wisconsin, in partnership with MMSD, Sweet Water, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helps municipalities update their codes and ordinances to both allow and better integrate the use of green infrastructure in landscapes.


Rain garden installation_photo credit Clean Wisconsin

Rain garden installation

Butterfly on purple coneflower

*Photo: MMSD



Water Capture on the Roof

One of the fastest growing trends in the landscape industry is the utilization of the green roof. 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 stormwater annually and prevent it from entering the sewer system. The Rockwell Automation building alone is designed to manage 1.3 million gallons of stormwater annually!

Green Space Acceleration

The innovative Greenseams® Program has protected over 5,000 acres of open space along streams, shorelines, and wetlands since its inception. 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 by businesses, organizations, and communities. Hoping to inspire other green infrastructure projects, MMSD is partnering with Greenprint Partners on the Fresh Coast Green Communities Program to connect with communities to plan, build, and maintain multi-benefit green infrastructure. 

Support for the Community

The Fresh Coast Resource Center began in 2017 to help empower people, homeowners, businesses, nonprofits, and governments with green infrastructure projects to help MMSD reach its goal of 740 million gallons of green infrastructure. Through the online website, discover more about green infrastructure programs, achievements, funding opportunities, and effective practices. One program, the Fresh Coast Ambassadors, is an entry-level green infrastructure program connecting young adults ages 15-23 to water industry careers and personal and professional development in Milwaukee. Fresh Coast Green Communities connects communities to plan, build, and maintain multi-benefit green infrastructure, as well as providing funding.

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. 

Young people with rain barrels

Young people with decorated rain barrels (Photo: MMSD)