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Lake Michigan shoreline with homes and trees

Green Infrastructure

Milwaukee is situated on one of the largest fresh water bodies in the world. Lake Michigan and the rivers that feed into it provide many opportunities for recreation and commerce. Protecting our lakes is critical for the city and for the region. As a Water Centric City, Milwaukee's citizens, businesses, and government must take individual and community responsibility for keeping our lake and rivers clean.

Climate change will increase the frequency and severity of heavy rainfall in the Midwest, resulting in greater flood risk. This threat is especially pertinent in urban areas like Milwaukee where hardscape like buildings, parking lots, roads, driveways, and other impervious surfaces prevents water from being absorbed into the ground, accelerating water runoff into storm sewers and local waterways and causing pollution.

To reduce these threats, the City is adding green infrastructure along with replacing and upgrading traditional sewer infrastructure, or grey infrastructure. Green infrastructure manages water where if falls by slowing it down, retaining it, filtering it, and allowing it to infiltrate into the ground instead of entering the sewer system.

The benefits of green infrastructure include: improves air quality, reduces the temperature in hot summer months, provides children with outdoor space to play and learn, makes our neighborhoods more beautiful and welcoming, and reduces pressure on storm sewers and wastewater treatment facilities.

  • Baseline Inventory
  • Green Infrastructure Plan
  • Progress
  • Resources
  • Reports

In 2015, the Environmental Collaboration Office created the Green Infrastructure Baseline Inventory to establish a starting measure of impervious surface and green infrastructure in Milwaukee. The City of Milwaukee's Green Infrastructure Geographic Information Services (GIS) Tool was also created to facilitate the advancement of green infrastructure planning in the City of Milwaukee.

Green infrastructure includes: rain barrels, cisterns, rain gardens, native landscaping, permeable pavement, bioswales, stormwater trees, regenerative stormwater conveyance, depaving, green streets and alleys, greenways and land conservation, green and blue roofs, and soil amendments.

Key Takeaways:

  • Milwaukee has 163.4 miles of shoreline.
  • Of the 96.1 square miles of land area in the city, 45.5% is impervious surface.
  • Existing green infrastructure captures 14 million gallons of stormwater.
  • The City's sustainability plan states a capture goal of 36 million gallons of stormwater by 2030.
  • The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has a capture goal of 173-380 million gallons of stormwater by 2035.

Inventory of Green Infrastructure in the City of Milwaukee (As of 2015)

TYPE NUMBER TOTAL AREA (SF) TOTAL AREA (Acres) Total Gallons of Capture
Bioretention 231 894,418 20.5 7,263,957
Constructed Wetlands 2 15,360 0.4 127,488
Green Roofs 100 603,580 13.9 603,580
Native Landscaping 14 211,717 4.9 84,687
Porous Pavement 53 568,136 13 2,577,908
Rain Gardens 32 71,550 1.6 314,823
Rain Barrels 5,529 N/A N/A 304,095
Rainwater Catchment (Cisterns) 52 N/A N/A 2,719,369
Soil Ammendments 0 0 0 0
Stormwater Trees 395 N/A N/A 9,875
TOTALS   2,364,761 54.3 14,005,782


The Green Infrastructure Baseline Inventory served as the foundation for Milwaukee's Green Infrastructure Plan, which was adopted in 2019 by the Common Council. The plan was produced through 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.

Key Takeaways:

  • Funding is prioritized for green streets, schoolyards, and parking lots.
  • All large developments and redevelopments are required to capture the first 1/2 inch of rainfall using green infrastructure.
  • Projects in high-priority subbasins will be prioritized to reduce impacts to vulnerable structures.
  • The City will de-pave and add green infrastructure to properties with excess pavement and provide one-time financial incentives for installing green infrastructure.
  • The City will partner with local organizations to support training and job opportunities for residents.
  • Green infrastructure is required on all large developments through ordinance. 
  • Locally produced compost from food waste should be incorporated into local projecets when possible.

Milwaukee's Stormwater Capture Goal

1/2 inch of rain captured by green infrastructure per rain event equals 36 million gallons of water captured per rain event equals approximately 143 acres of new open space


 Menomonee Valley Green SpaceCity Hall Green RoofGreen Infrastructure at the LakefrontGreen School as Part of the Green Schools ConsortiumNative Plants at the Beach to Capture Stormwater RunoffPorous Pavement InstallationRain Garden at Pabst BreweryRain Garden at Work at Bradford Beach
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  Milwaukee Public Schools Green School Yard Transformations

The City of Milwaukee collaborates with Milwaukee Public Schools to prioritize green infrastructure on schoolyards. Annually, $600,000 from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's (MMSD) Green Solutions fund is allocated to support green schoolyards projects and the schools' Sustainability Specialist position. Projects are completed in collaboration with the Green Schools Consortium of Milwaukee.

Learn about current Schoolyard Redevelopment Projects.


  Green Infrastructure Map to Inform Planning

The City of Milwaukee's Green Infrastructure Geographic Information Services (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.

  Stormwater Management Charge Finances Projects

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.

  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

City departments are directed to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff from City properties by 15% and encourage 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 the Flow of Stormwater into Sewers

The City has funded a variety of projects to reduce the flow of stormwater into the sewer system, including downspout disconnections in targeted neighborhoods, foundation drain disconnections in public housing, and inlet restrictors on selected streets.

  Increasing Native Plants

The City is also incorporating more native plants in 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 the 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:

- N. 92nd St. Greet St. - W. Capitol Dr. to W. Good Hope Rd.

- W. Grange Ave. Green St. - S. 19th St. to S. 27th St.

- N. 27th St. Green St. - W. Capitol Dr. to W. Roosevelt Dr.

  BaseTern Prototypes for Holding More Water

The City of Milwaukee has explored cost effective and innovative approaches for managing stormwater to help neighborhoods be more resilient to extreme storm events. One approach that has been studied is the BaseTern, 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 the 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 rain barrels. 

Read the Feasibility Study and BaseTern FAQs.

Environmental Sustainability Program Coordinator Alexis Laverdiere 

 Alexis Laverdiere, Sustainability Coordinator


 City Hall, 200 E. Wells Street, Room 603, Milwaukee, WI 53202 

 Monday - Friday, 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM

Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office logo, eco-City of Milwaukee


City of Milwaukee Green Infrastructure Report Cover

In the News

MPS Unveils 'Green Schoolyards That Also Divert and Filter Stormwater

Journal Sentinel - October 24, 2019

The green schoolyard projects are a collaboration between MPS and several partners, including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the City of Milwaukee, the MPS Foundation and Reflo, a nonprofit that works with community organizations on green infrastructure projects.

Milwaukee Creates Green Infrastructure Plan to Cope with Changing Climate

WUWM 88.7 - July 26, 2019

Earlier this month the city introduced its official Green Infrastructure Plan. It includes strategies to manage water resources and adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

Does Milwaukee, Wisconsin now have the best Green Infrastructure Plan in the US?

Revitalization - October 15, 2018

A record amount of rainfall in Wisconsin in August of 2018 demonstrates the need for cities to prepare for the threats posed by climate change, including flooding. Cities with too much pavement and hardscape face higher flooding risks and impairments to water quality.

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