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Blue Notes by Kevin Shafer - Impervious Surfaces

03/18/21 04:00:pm
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In most parts of this planet, we find pavement.  Our roads, parking lots, and sidewalks are all mostly paved.  This is a great approach for transportation and is one of the reasons for our nation’s success.

There is also a downside to this.  All this impervious cover has led us to increased flooding and most of our nation’s cities have reached a tipping point.  Rainwater cannot infiltrate into the ground, so it flows over land and, during very large storms, floods homes and businesses.

We have even gone to the extreme of lining our rivers with concrete.  So, not only do the rivers collect more water from the impervious cover in urban settings, this water then shoots downstream and sometimes causes more flooding.  These concrete rivers have eliminated wildlife, straightened what used to meander, and decreased the quality of neighborhoods.

What we have learned is that we need to make sure that we create natural settings in our urban jungle – a place where people can live, work, and recreate in the same vicinity. 

In Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has been working to remove concrete-lined rivers and to add natural infrastructure to our neighborhoods.  We are realizing improved fisheries, a better quality of life, and less flood potential.

concrete channel in pulaski park on kinnickinnic river

Kinnickinnic River Concrete Channel in Pulaski Park

naturalized channel in pulaski park kinnickinnic river

Kinnickinnic River Naturalized Channel in Pulaski Park

To support Greater Milwaukees’ efforts to capture and absorb stormwater runoff from our heavily impervious surfaces MMSD is adding green and natural vegetation.

Annually, we invite the local public, not-for-profit, and private sector organizations within eligible municipalities to apply for funding through the Green Infrastructure Partnership Program (GIPP) from MMSD to create new rain gardensbioswalesgreen roofs, and a variety of techniques that help capture and harness rain and melting snow. 

Residents can also be a part of the solution by planting a rain garden to help reduce water pollution and soak up the rainwater in your yard. MMSD’s Spring Rain Garden Plant Sale is now open, order your plants at up to 50% off retail until April 8th.

We have a great deal more to do and we need everyone’s help.  This is not rocket science, but it is not easy to achieve.  Together we can all help make difference.


Be Safe!  Be Understanding!  Be Kind!

Kevin L. Shafer, P.E.
Executive Director - Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District 

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Learn about the Kinnickinnic River Watershed's history, progress, and active flood management projects through our interactive story map.