Stormwater Solutions for Milwaukee’s Rivers

Stormwater Solutions for Milwaukee’s Rivers

By Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Like many other groups throughout the Great Lakes, Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers (FMR) is grappling with how to best address non-point source pollution on our local waterways – the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic River Watersheds, which drain to Lake Michigan. The strategies addressing stormwater pollution must be as diverse as the sources and types of pollutants threatening our waters. To that end, FMR is addressing stormwater through a combination of advocacy, education, and management.

Advocacy for Stronger Regulations: FMR has been reviewing and commenting on both the Statewide proposed General Permits for stormwater [construction, industrial, and municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s)] as well as individual permits for MS4s discharging into our waterways. We have also been requesting hearings on individual permits of concern. In response to our comments, as well as comments from several statewide and national groups, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has significantly strengthened their proposed General Permit for MS4s including new provisions that address discharges to waters that are designated “Outstanding and Exceptional” by the state and to impaired waters on the 303(d) list. In addition, better opportunities for public comment have been incorporated.We anticipate that these positive changes will be reflected in all General Permits and Individual Permits for stormwater dischargers in the State and Milwaukee River Basin.

On-the-Ground Education: FMR has run a storm drain marking program for the last 2 years to educate citizens about the connection between storm drains and our waterways – approximately 3,000 drains have been marked in 7 different communities. FMR also regularly presents information to community groups on ways that they can help protect water quality in their own backyards through disconnecting roof downspouts from combined sewer systems, and by installing rain gardens and rain barrels. Reducing residential runoff minimizes negative effects on water quality as well as sewer overflows resulting from insufficient sewer capacity.

Making Changes Through Restoration and Management: In 2004, FMR planted our first rain garden at Tonawanda Elementary School in Elm Grove. This 2,500 square foot garden is adjacent to Underwood Creek, which is one of the flashiest streams in Wisconsin. Students were involved in all aspects of the project, including planning, planting, and creation of informational signage. FMR is also working with the Village of Elm Grove on a demonstration native planting area/rain garden in the Village Park, as well as with the Milwaukee River Basin Partnership on a friendly competition among several local universities to create rain gardens and other storm water solutions on their campuses.

For more information on these projects, please contact:
Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper®
Phone: (414) 287-0207 x 29



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.