Sweet Water Convenes Bacteria Work Group

In 2017, Sweet Water formed a Bacteria Work Group to study the problem of fecal pollution entering our waterways and recommend feasible steps to address this problem. These recommendations will help our area attain national and state water quality standards, protect human health, recreate safely and remove our waterways from the Impaired Waters List. 

Southeastern Wisconsin continues to experience beach closings due to elevated levels of bacteria such as E. coli. These harmful bacteria are a result of human and animal waste entering our waterways and combining with a variety of water conditions to create a public health hazard--nausea, vomiting, diarrhea--when ingested by humans and pets. 

Part of the challenge in addressing this water hazard is the fact that the exact location of sources of bacterial contamination infiltrating the Milwaukee River Basin have not been identified, with roughly 90% of all fecal pollution coming from unknown sources according a recent report from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). While we know the types of sources of fecal pollution--sewage overflows, leaky sewer laterals and cross connections, leaky septic tanks, runoff from farm fields, wildlife, farm animals and domestic pets--more work is needed to pinpoint exactly where these contaminants are coming from so they can be prevented.

One way that Southeastern Wisconsin is working to address fecal pollution is through the use of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). A TMDL is the amount of a pollutant a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. A recently drafted set of TMDLs for our area includes a focus on bacteria and will provide regulatory leverage to this problem. The TMDL is expected to focus and increase the interest and resources applied to this problem.  

In 2017, Sweet Water formed a Bacteria Work Group to frame key questions and issues, identify potential solutions, and develop additional tools to address the problem. The Bacteria Work Group is comprised of members from Sweet Water’s Science Advisory Committee whose professional backgrounds and personal interests complement the Work Group’s scope of work. Members include individuals from local and regional non-profit organizations, scientists and water professionals from public and private sectors, engineers, land conservation departments, WDNR, and regional planning staff.

The Bacteria Work Group is working to identify recommendations for feasible steps that partners working to improve water quality can take now, as well as longer-term solutions that will require additional resources. One focus of the group has been outlining a protocol for identifying and prioritizing sources of bacteria loading in the Milwaukee River Basin. This work, as well as more general recommendations for how to address the problem of bacterial contamination in the Greater Milwaukee Watersheds, is on-going. If you would like to become involved the Bacteria Work Group, contact Janet Pritchard at pritchard@swwtwater.org.

Sweet Water’s 2018 Clean Rivers, Clean Lakes conference also included presentations relating to bacteria contamination and how to address this problem. Click here to access these and other presentations from the conference.

Sweet Water looks forward to continuing this work and sharing our findings and recommendations in coming months--be sure to stay tuned for updates! 

Green Infrastructure Stormwater Opportunities for Commercial Businesses

 New event announcement! Join us at the next Green Infrastructure Stormwater Opportunities workshop on Friday, September 14th, 2018.  Photo by Ezra Meyer.

New event announcement! Join us at the next Green Infrastructure Stormwater Opportunities workshop on Friday, September 14th, 2018. Photo by Ezra Meyer.

Workshop: Green Stormwater Opportunities for Commercial Businesses / Property

Friday, September 14, 2018 7:30 AM - 10:00 AM  
First-floor Auditorium, Global Water Center
247 W. Freshwater Way Milwaukee, WI

Please RSVP to giworkshops@cleanwisconsin.org if you plan to attend.

This workshop covers green stormwater management opportunities for small business owners and all those involved in decision-making re: commercial property stormwater management.

Please join us as we explore options for dealing with roof and parking lot runoff creatively to both 1) address flooding and water quality and 2) beautify and potentially add value to your business / property. We will cover green stormwater practices such as permeable pavement, rain gardens / bio-infiltration, planter boxes, green roofs, and more.

This workshop will feature presentations by:

·      Environmental conservation organizations, Clean Wisconsin and Sweet Water
·      The City of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
·      A landscape architect with significant expertise working for both commercial property owners and municipalities
·      Other business owners / commercial property owners who have implemented green stormwater solutions on their properties

All of the following, who may be involved in decision-making re: stormwater management commercial property, are welcome and encouraged to join us:

  • Business owners
  • Commercial property owners, managers, and brokers
  • Landscape contractors
  • Landscape architects and landscape designers
  • Municipal staff in planning and zoning, development review, and stormwater/engineering
  • Consulting engineers

Please RSVP to giworkshops@cleanwisconsin.org if you plan to attend.

Presented by Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Sweet Water (the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc.), and Clean Wisconsin, under the auspices of the Fresh Coast Green Infrastructure Resource Center. 

More information on green stormwater infrastructure opportunities for developers here:




Water Quality Improvement Plan Update

Milw River at Wells St bridge.jpg

In the coming months, Sweet Water will be working to create a Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) for the Greater Milwaukee Watersheds (GMW). This work has been commissioned by MMSD.

The ultimate goal of the WQIP is to define pathways to significantly improve water quality leading to the delisting of the GMW’s impaired waterbodies. The WQIP will incorporate the analyses and recommendations from existing watershed restoration plans for sub-watersheds within the region. The WQIP will also propose a system for monitoring water quality with an eye to identifying the most impactful and cost-effective watershed restoration actions. The water quality monitoring plan is being developed by the Midwest Biological Institute (MBI), which has developed similar plans utilized in other regions including Northern Illinois and the greater Cleveland area. In addition to developing methodologies for prioritizing restoration actions, the WQIP aims to assist municipalities and other regulated entities to meet water quality guidelines by recommending a framework for regional stakeholder cooperation and collaboration.

Sweet Water aims to develop a WQIP that is not only ambitious and efficient but also transparent and accountable, and to exemplify these values in our process of developing the plan. To this end, we will be seeking community and stakeholder input throughout the process. The planning process will be ongoing through 2019. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Janet Pritchard.

August 2018 Grant Opportunities


Each month Sweet Water compiles a list of local, regional, and national funding opportunities.  These grants and scholarships are available for environmental and water quality projects in our region and are intended to support a range of needs, from organizational capacity building to water quality monitoring. We encourage our partner organizations and community members to take a closer look!

Find the full list here!

Spirit of Peace Mini-Grant - Singing the Praises of Green Infrastructure

By Joan Herriges, Mini-Grant Program Manager

There’s a new way to store water where it falls, and Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church has found it with the help of a mini-grant from Sweet Water.  Located in Milwaukee’s Washington Heights neighborhood at the corner of 55th and Lloyd Streets, Spirit of Peace makes learning about environmental stewardship and green infrastructure part and parcel of its progressive philosophy.

It all started when Sarah Kubetz, a church staff member, suggested to Brandon Koltz, church council president, that they replace a portion of the lawn with gardens to decrease the amount of lawn to mow.  Brandon Koltz is a professional environmental engineer and a member of Sweet Water’s Science Committee. He happened to see an exhibit of a new way to collect rainwater, called StormGUARDen, ™ developed by Stormwater Solutions Engineering.

In the fall of 2017, Brandon requested a mini-grant from Sweet Water to disconnect four roof downspouts from the combined storm and sanitary sewers.  In June, each downspout was disconnected and diverted to capture rain flow in a StormGUARDen ™ storage device and prevent flow that can overwhelm the sewer system.  The captured water will be used to irrigate rain gardens created near the storage devices and a vegetable garden.

The church has an Urban Retreat Center that provides an urban service program, trains youth and/or adults in community action skills, and more.  These volunteers come to the Retreat Center to learn to live simply and intentionally. Working on the new gardens will teach the volunteers why water is a valuable resource that can stay where it falls and penetrate into the gardens instead of picking up pollutants on the way to the sewers and contaminating the drinking water.

Spirit of Peace plans to notify local grade schools and neighborhood youth groups, and post information on its website and Facebook page about the project.  They are willing to conduct presentations by request to "sing the praises" of how their project and StormGUARDen ™ reduces potential flooding and therefore improves water quality.


StormGUARDen ™ is a specially designed, 10-foot-long box filled with tubs of soil and topped with flowers and native grasses that can collect and slow down the water from storms dropping up to 3 inches of rain.  Small pipes open on the sides of the box to release excess water. The boxes provide an efficient and attractive alternative to using rain barrels because each box stores enough water to fill 6.5 barrels and holds up to 350 gallons.


July 17th: Free GI Workshop for Developers

7-17-18 CW, SWWT, & MMSD GI wkshp for developers_FLYER.jpg

After our January green stormwater opportunities workshop for developers and allied professionals, we heard a clear call for more detail on what it takes to get green stormwater practices incorporated into projects - cost-effectively - in the Greater Milwaukee region.

This second, more advanced workshop will address stormwater compliance costs, with  a detailed look at the costs in our area for green stormwater practices such as permeable pavement, rain gardens / bio-infiltration, and green roofs.

This workshop will feature a discussion panel with manufacturers and suppliers of green stormwater treatment systems, along with a presentation on the ongoing stormwater regulations and practices cost study by project contractor, Birchline Planning LLC.

If you’re involved in development and redevelopment projects and your company is already on the leading edge of green stormwater practices, or if you want to take it to the next level, this workshop is for you.

All of those involved in the real estate development / redevelopment process are welcome:

  • Developers
  • Builders
  • Landscape designers
  • Architects
  • Engineers
  • Planners

Please RSVP to

if you plan to attend.

Mapping Stormwater Flow in the Village of Bayside

By Jen Linse

For the last year, Sweet Water has been working with the Village of Bayside, Kapur & Associates, Birchline Planning, and Hey & Associates to map and assess the current flow and drainage of stormwater in the Pelham Heath neighborhood.  Funded by a grant from the Fund for Lake Michigan, the project includes: 

  • educational opportunities and neighborhood meetings to learn about stormwater and the purpose of stormwater ditches
  • social mapping to locate areas of flooding
  • flow path modeling to map and assess the flow of stormwater through the Pelham Heath Neighborhood
  • a collaborative design process wherein stormwater runoff ditch designs are explained and discussed with the public
  • an outdoor classroom which allows residents to view green infrastructure designs constructed in stormwater ditches.

Next Steps

A Green Infrastructure Outdoor Classroom

The Village of Bayside will be working with Kapur & Associates over the summer to build three green infrastructure designs on King Road including a bio-retention feature, bioswale and rain garden.  These constructed examples will serve as an outdoor classroom for Village residents to view and better understand how green infrastructure installed in stormwater ditches and areas prone to flooding can help ease flooding and improve water quality.

Meet the Board: Elizabeth Hellman

 Elizabeth Hellman is one of Sweet Water’s newest board members. We sat down to chat about her thoughts as an Environmental Engineer and what she’s noticed over her career at WEC Energy Group subsidiaries in Milwaukee.

Elizabeth Hellman is one of Sweet Water’s newest board members. We sat down to chat about her thoughts as an Environmental Engineer and what she’s noticed over her career at WEC Energy Group subsidiaries in Milwaukee.

By Martha Allen

Allen: What is your background and how did you end up in the position you are in now?
Hellman: My title is Principal Environmental Engineer at WEC Energy Group – Business Services. I originally went to college for chemical engineering but sometime during that time I became interested in environmental issues and completed an Environmental Studies certificate program in addition to my engineering degree. Meanwhile, I worked during the summers for We Energies, which was called Wisconsin Electric at that time, and one summer I had an environmental project there which interested me. Once I left college, I worked for Wisconsin Electric full time and after a year of getting used to working I started a part time master’s degree program at Marquette University and got a Civil and Environmental Engineering degree there that led me to a position at Wisconsin Electric in the environmental department and later on the water quality team.  Throughout my education and the beginning of my career, many of the projects that had interested me had been water-related and the transition made sense.

A: What kinds of things are you responsible for in your current position?
H: Actually, this summer I will be having my 25th anniversary with the company and I have been in my current position for about 15 years. I work mostly with water permits for the various generating facilities (power plants) and for other water-related projects. These permits are for water discharges, intake structures, and wastewater management/treatment. I also work on spill prevention control and countermeasure plans, not just for the power plants but for any company facilities that need them. This also includes more than just our We Energies plants because all service centers and power plants that store oil above a certain threshold need to have a spill plan. My team works on these and we also cover numerous other ancillary things that have to do with stormwater and wastewater.

A: Are you originally from the Milwaukee area?
H: I’m originally from Wisconsin but I grew up in three different places in the state. I spent most of my adolescence in Two Rivers, Wisconsin until I went to college.

A: What was your relationship with water like growing up?
H: I have lived near Lake Michigan my whole life. When I was younger, my relationship with the lake was complicated because I grew up in Two Rivers which is a bump out into the lake and it was always cold unless there was a strong wind from the west. From that standpoint I had some animosity toward Lake Michigan. Obviously, since then I have really come to appreciate it for all that it provides as a natural resource and a recreational gem. I think it’s interesting to talk to people who aren’t from the Great Lakes area because you can’t really convey how expansive it is until you’re standing on the shore. It’s interesting to see them realize that you can’t see the other side when you’re standing near it, because that’s not what most people imagine when they picture a lake. It’s really an amazing, unique, natural feature.

A: How have you seen the environmental community change over your career?
H: I think there have been such great improvements made in the Milwaukee area. I didn’t think about it as much when I first started but I realize now that there were many significant environmental challenges in our area. Looking around now, it’s amazing to see all the hard work paying off in our area. For example, I’ve worked on studies that have been done to support permitting and modifications for the Valley Power Plant which is located right next to downtown Milwaukee near I-94. Seeing the improvements over time in the aquatic community in the Menomonee River and the quality of the river water that the plant uses for cooling is really encouraging and shows how all of the work done by all of the entities in the area to bring about those improvements has paid off.

A: Briefly, what do you think of as your favorite part of your job?
H: One of the things I really enjoy is learning more about new developments in science and technology. I love seeing the new things that people have discovered or invented and figuring out how we can apply those things to our company’s facilities. In particular, I am fascinated by intake and wastewater treatment technologies that are able to do things that haven’t been done before or are more efficient at removing more arsenic, mercury, and selenium from wastewaters. The chemistry and biology involved is fascinating to me and I love being involved in deciding what equipment to install and how to make it work in a way that makes sense for our facilities and that is also cost effective for our customers.

A: If you were granted the ability to change one thing about how people view water quality, what would it be?
H: Coming from the industry perspective, I wish more people would realize that those of us in industry do care about the environment. There are many people working in our facilities who are doing their best to protect the environment and create cost-effective solutions to protect our natural resources. I am very excited to be starting my journey as a Sweet Water board member and to get to interact with a wide range of leaders in industry, higher education, and nonprofit and to see that we all share the same goals.

A: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work?
H: I love spending time with my family. My four kids are very active in sports and scouts. My favorite event every year is a big summer camping trip with my husband and kids to see a different part of the country and enjoy some quality time outdoors.