The Greening of Shorewood
The suburb’s embrace of green roofs, rain barrels and rain gardens is a model for others, including Milwaukee.
For nearly a decade, the Village of Shorewood has been a leader among Milwaukee neighborhoods in installing green infrastructure. Their publicly-sponsored tactics to retain stormwater and runoff have led to the installation of over 240 green roofs, 268 rain barrels and 61 rain gardens, not to mention the disconnection of almost 1,000 downspouts.
“This is something we’ve been addressing for years,” says Shorewood’s Director of Public Works Leeann Butschlick, going back to the late 1990’s.
Butschlick, who has been Director of Public Works since December 2007, says that, “Generally speaking, Shorewood has a very progressive resident base. They tend to be very environmentally conscious.”
But while the earliest efforts began some 15 years ago, the campaign really took off in 2004, when the village joined forces with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. “The watershed moment,” Butschlick says, “was when the village and the MMSD did a downspout disconnection program that began in 2004 and ended in 2008. Private companies assessed the properties and the disconnections were done at no cost to residents.”
The program provided incentives to Shorewood residents: if more than two downspouts were removed, the residence was provided a free rain barrel. More than four disconnections got a rain garden planted, also free of charge. The program also provided rain barrel and rain garden workshops for residents.
“The main thing that Shorewood has done right is they have been very aggressive,” says Bill Graffin, Public Information Manager for the MMSD “They’ve done a good job in trying to supplement their gray infrastructure (like sewers and connecting pipes that don’t leak) with green infrastructure.” Attention to both, Graffin says, is highly important.
The residents of Shorewood know from bitter experience why it’s important to retain stormwater and prevent it from running off onto sidewalks and streets. It was, after all, only a little more than three years ago, in July 2010, when the Brew City Flood hammered much of metro Milwaukee. Shorewood was arguably the hardest hit and suffered the most damage.
“[Shorewood] residents have seen sewer system issues of the past,” Butschlick says. “They have seen the negative consequences.”
Besides reducing the impact of such floods, the retention of rainwater also cuts pollution in the area. A 2007 joint study led by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission found that larger “point” sources of pollution, such as industrial pollution or sewage system overflows by the MMSD, cause only about 13 percent of water pollution in Lake Michigan and area rivers. At least 87 percent of the the pollution comes from smaller “non-point” sources — bird droppings and dog poop, lawn and garden fertilizer, salt added to streets and sidewalks, oil and other fluids leaking from cars — all of which gets swept via stormwater runoff into sewers and then into rivers and Lake Michigan. Reduce the stormwater runoff and you give the MMSD a better chance of processing and cleaning all that water, thus reducing water pollution.
The remarkable success of Shorewood in adding green infrastructure provides an example for other area suburbs, not to mention the area’s biggest municipality — Milwaukee. Alderman Nik Kovac says that in the Third District he serves, efforts are being made.
“Rain barrels are something that has been very successful in Riverwest,” he says. The implementation of these rain barrels, Kovac says, was also done in conjunction with the MMSD. “Trying to get homeowners to conserve rainwater,” he says, “is always something positive.”
What a small suburb has accomplished would seem a good model for a tightly-knit, politically-active neighborhoods like Riverwest or the East Side, which both abut Shorewood. Kovac notes the connections between these areas: “There is definitely a lot of social interaction across Edgewood Avenue and the river.” To truly accomplish this kind of change, however, the City of Milwaukee may need to learn from Shorewood and offer similar incentives for homeowners to embrace green infrastructure.