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Our climate is changing. That seems to be the unifying message from the recently completed 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). It really doesn’t matter whether this change is due to our activities or natural cycles. People around the globe are suffering from drought, floods, wildfires, and extreme heat, and these events are occurring more regularly and last longer.
As the global discussion continues, I believe that there are actions that can be taken locally to help us do our part to address this issue. These actions can also help us reduce our risk of flooding, improve our health, and reduce our long-term costs.
As with many issues, you plan globally but act locally by both adapting to climate change and being resilient to climate change. At the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), we are working on both fronts.
Climate adaptation is mostly an emissions issue. If we can reduce emissions, we can improve the air we breathe, reduce the heat-trapping gases in our environment, and strive to limit our global increase in temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, as recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change. MMSD’s projects like:
1. Converting from fossil fuel-generated energy to landfill methane gas;
2. Adding solar generation;
3. Improving the efficiency of our existing biosolid digesters to produce more methane gas, then using it at the water reclamation facilities; and
4. Replacing old inefficient equipment with more efficient, newer equipment;
are all making MMSD more adaptable. In 2022, at the Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility, we have generated approximately 21% of our power needs with landfill methane gas. At the South Shore Water Reclamation Facility, we have generated approximately 69% of our power needs with digester methane gas. These annual percentages will increase as we continually lower our uses of energy through higher efficiencies.
The below charts show MMSD’s renewable energy usage, for the last 365 days, at our two water reclamation facilities.
MMSD’s two Water Reclamation Facilities have similar wet weather capacities; however, the Jones Island facility consumes about 80% of the total energy use, whereas the South Shore facility consumes about 20%. The interplant pipeline interconnects the two facilities’ biosolids processes, and the Milorganite® dryers consume a lot of natural gas, which is why Jones Island consumes more power than the South Shore facility.
On the climate resilient front, MMSD projects are naturalizing rivers by removing concrete liners and increasing green space by installing natural, green infrastructure. Schools, roadways, parking lots, and rooftops are all beneficiaries of these green retrofits. To date, we have improved 37 school playgrounds, removed 4.4 miles of concrete liners, and installed over 90.7 million gallons of green infrastructure. This work will reduce the risk of flooding and improve our health, making us more resilient to the coming changes.
To address flooding issues with Underwood Creek in the 1950s and 1960s, the natural creek was transformed into a concrete-lined ditch to move water as fast as possible. Time has shown that concrete-lined channels can pose more problems. Underwood Creek became a danger to our community during rainstorms due to high speeds and caused more flooding upstream. MMSD is working to return Underwood Creek to a more naturalized state to reduce flood risks, improve public safety, and restore habitats.
The climate change discussion continues. The good news is that work is underway to be ready for this change.
Be Safe. Be Understanding. Be Kind.
Kevin L. Shafer, P.E.
Executive Director - Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
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