Are you a Responsible Raker?

We are in the midst of leaf season here in southeastern Wisconsin!

While that means beautiful autumn colors and delightfully crunchy leaves underfoot, it also signals a spike in phosphorus entering our local waterways and waterbodies.

As leaves clog our storm drains and on our streets during rain events, they effectively start becoming a kind of “leaf tea” that can leach excess phosphorus into the storm sewers. This is a problem whether you live in a combined sewer system or separated system, because the treatment plant either has to work harder to rid the water of this nutrient or the water goes directly into our local lakes and rivers. Excess phosphorus is a health issue for wildlife and for our recreational use of the water because high levels of this nutrient can lead to algal blooms that deplete the amount of oxygen in the water and release toxins into the water.

The good news: there are a number of actions that you take at home to alleviate this problem!

While not every municipality has a leaf collection program, if yours does, make sure you are familiar with the collection schedule and practices. Most municipalities have this information available on their Department of Public Works page. Some communities collect bagged leaves, some collect leaves that have been piled on terraces, and some collect leaves that have been piled on the streets.

A few tips:

  • Try to pile the leaves in the correct location as close to the collection time or date as possible to avoid leaves on the terrace being blown into the street or leaves on the street being washed down to the storm drain during a rain event.

  • If some leaves are left behind in the street after the collection, try to clear them from the storm drains to reduce blockage and flooding during rain events.

  • If your municipality does not have a collection program or if you want to be more environmentally conscious, you can leave your leaves right on your lawn or garden with a little prep work. Just bring out your lawn mower one more time for the season and mow right over the leaves. This will create a mulch that will help protect your lawn and garden during the winter months. You can also compost the shredded leaves by adding a little bit at a time to your compost heap, and in the spring you can spread the nutrient-rich compost on your garden.

That’s right, as it turns out, the most responsible of rakers may not need to rake much at all -- because they are magnificent mulchers!

Happy fall from the Sweet Water Team!

U-Rah-Rah - Innovation!

Green Infrastructure is attracting increasing amounts of attention throughout southeastern and south central Wisconsin.

In late September, the City of Milwaukee announced its Green Infrastructure Plan Framework, which will require all new developments and redevelopments to capture the first half inch of precipitation on site using green infrastructure.

To achieve this goal, we must learn from other ambitious, large scale green infrastructure plans. One such plan is UW-Madison’s Green Infrastructure Master Plan, created by national design firm SmithGroup.

The Rock River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) has placed a focus on more stringent stormwater permit requirements to address water pollutants in the Madison area, leading UW-Madison to take a unique and innovative approach when updating their most recent campus master plan.

The UW-Madison Green Infrastructure Master Plan’s innovative approach removes the focus from solely relying on individual redevelopment site best management practices (BMPs) and incorporates a district-based approach to treating stormwater runoff.  After all, the dirtiest runoff in an urban area comes from the street right of ways, which are often not addressed with site-based BMPs. The plan distinguishes itself from other GI campus plans as it also preserves the university’s historic character and elevates the overall quality and identity of campus.  

Prior to 2015, the UW had made significant strides towards their MS4 permit requirement of 40% total suspended solids (TSS) reduction through construction of over 80 BMPs on campus.  However, to achieve the new TMDL-prescribed TSS and total phosphorus (TP) reductions (73% and 61%, respectively), a more aggressive approach was needed.

The UW-Madison Green Infrastructure Master Plan recommends newly created engineered wetlands (including one at the base of historic Bascom Hill that replaces an existing parking lot), creek rehabilitation, a network of green streets, and underground detention chambers which intercept storm sewers that drain large areas of campus.  The latter can be implemented where land is at a premium (such as under recreational fields and plaza spaces). Each of these strategies, when put together, contributed to the overall campus TSS and TP reductions, while also providing high quality open space for the campus community, habitat enhancements, and other ecosystem services.

The integration of public landscapes and performance landscapes establishes a comprehensive framework for preserving and enhancing the great outdoor spaces of the University, reflecting the highest aspirations for campus aesthetics, ecology and landscape performance over the next 20 years. The plan received a 2017 Honor Award from the Society for College and University Planners for Open Space Planning and Design and a 2018 Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for Analysis and Planning.  

SmithGroup will be bringing its expertise to Southeastern Wisconsin, as it is planning to open offices in Milwaukee’s Third Ward in coming months. We welcome their new physical presence to the our area and look forward to seeing how their innovative green infrastructure planning can help to sustainably transform our historic communities, especially with Milwaukee’s new GI requirements now in place.

See the gallery below for renderings of the plan!