Green Infrastructure Codes and Ordinances

View of downtown Milwaukee and the shoreline of Lake Michigan

View of downtown Milwaukee and the shoreline of Lake Michigan

Across the country, green infrastructure practices have become increasingly important elements of local efforts to improve water quality. These practices improve the health of watersheds, beautify neighborhoods, and reduce maintenance costs. Despite the benefits of incorporating green infrastructure practices, many groups are still hesitant to adopt them. In order to uncover the barriers that prevent communities, municipalities, and organizations from adopting these methods, Sweet Water and other regional stakeholders have partnered with Juli Beth Hinds of Birchline Planning to study the best way to encourage best practices in the Milwaukee area.

According to Hinds, some of the largest barriers originate at the municipal level. “We have found that one of the biggest barriers that keep Milwaukee area municipalities from adopting these practices is that they don’t have enough time or resources to update their zoning ordinances,” says Hinds. Where municipalities have outdated codes and ordinances and lack the resources and time to update them, they struggle to provide support to local businesses and groups that might be interested. Improved ordinances increase local incentives for groups to incorporate green infrastructure and can also reduce startup costs.

Lack of resources for training and education is another large barrier. According to Hinds, "Sometimes it's not the regulations that are turning people away, it's just bad habits and lack of a deeper understanding. It’s a very multifaceted issue." The ultimate goal is to normalize green infrastructure so that it is the obvious choice. This requires both behavior changes and improved regulations.

Over the past few years, Hinds has been able to forge meaningful relationships with several municipalities. Recently, she partnered with the Village of Bayside to better understand how stormwater flows through a residential neighborhood. She worked with the community to create a range of solutions from municipal ordinances to helping property owners design and implement their own solutions on their properties. “Helping communities prioritize investments in their own water quality is the first step,” says Hinds, “and in the context of that, we’re helping them look again at whether there are code changes that will help.” Hinds has also been working with the City of Milwaukee to promote new landscape standards for the edges of small commercial sites and with the City of Oak Creek as they update their ordinances.

Interested in learning more about green infrastructure? In combination with Clean Wisconsin, Sweet Water is providing an on-going series of workshops on various green infrastructure technologies and options for funding. The first of these workshops was hosted at UW–Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences and was tailored to community groups and houses of worship. More information will be provided as future workshops are announced.