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Climate Adaptation and 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. 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

In 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 Plan 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. One of the most exciting elements of the Plan is the City's collaboration with Milwaukee Public Schools to transform green school yards.  Check out the 2020 progress and plan for these schools!

Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook

We at the City of Milwaukee have created this Commercial Rainwater Harvesting and Reuse Guide to support local water stewards as you begin to plan your rainwater harvesting project. While different systems will require different set ups, storage sizes, and filtration -- all projects are crucial steps on our collective journey to becoming a Water Centric City. ECO was proud to partner with Marquette University student Emma Diamond, Reflo Sustainable Water Solutions, MMSD, the City's Department of Neighborhood Services and many other community partners to develop this guide. The guidebook defines terms, identifies codes and ordinances related to commercial rainwater harvesting, discusses storage and treatment options, and features great examples located right here in the City of Milwaukee.  Click here to download the Introduction to Commercial Rainwater Harvesting guidebook

Residential 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

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 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 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 BaseTern FAQs.

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.

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


How You Can Help


  • 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.

City of Milwaukee Sustainability Director Erick Shambarger

@Erick Shambarger
Sustainability Director


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

 Monday - Friday, 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM

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