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Brewing Rainwater in Milwaukee--Crafting a Regional Rain Barrel Program

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Rainwater Harvesting is not new to Milwaukee; it has been used for generations as a way to collect fresh water. At the turn of the 20th Century it was used as a regular source water. Over time tap water has replaced the use of fresh rainwater as regular source of water for inside and outside of the home. In the last 10 years, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has recognized the importance of rainwater harvesting and its effect on sewerage systems and water usage. This is especially important because approximately five percent of MMSD's sewer service area is combined (storm and sanitary) as development and impervious surfaces have increased so has the amount of stormwater that makes its way into the combined sewer system. The excess rainwater entering into the sewerage system affects capacity and treatment ability, sometimes causing combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

MMSD has created one of the most successful rain barrel programs in the United States. Since 2004, MMSD has used rain barrels to open the minds of the public to green infrastructure and move towards weaving more sustainable water solutions into the already massive grey infrastructure system. Rain barrels have been used as tools to gain public understanding of how the sewerage system works and how their actions affect sewage treatment and water quality. Rain barrels are great conversations starters for green infrastructure because they are easy to understand and provide a direct benefit for residents.

The rain barrel program at MMSD took a great deal of planning and several years to become the respected and recognizable program it is today. It is one of the oldest running rain barrel programs in the United States and has been highly successful at getting rain barrels spread across the region; over 17,000 since 2004. MMSD has put emphasis on using public events as outreach venues. It has opened dialogue with residents from all over the sewer service area. MMSD also worked with several non-profit groups within the sewer service area providing installation instructions, question and answer sessions, as well as donation incentives related to rain barrels. Coordination with local governments has lessened the hurdles to green infrastructure measures like rain barrels.

MMSD has always maintained a realistic view of the effects of rain barrel implementation will have on the sewer system and CSO elimination. Rain barrels will not eliminate CSOs, but rain barrels can reduce CSO volume and have helped introduce different green infrastructure measures to the public. MMSD will continue to use rain barrels as a way to further the implementation of green infrastructure as outline in the 2035 Vision goals.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-01-01

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