Community Engagement in Milwaukee and Beyond

Building sustainability and resilience in Wisconsin communities

OUR MILWAUKEE PROGRAM

Our Milwaukee Program supports local environmental sustainability efforts, especially around reducing water pollution, fighting climate change, strengthening community resilience to climate change impacts, and improving environmental health. We work through partnerships with local government offices and agencies, including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), as well as through various coalitions and collaboration with community and neighborhood organizations.

Office Address

4201 N. 27th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53216

Program Staff

Ethan Taxman
Dayona Rimmer

Managing rain where it falls to revitalize Milwaukee communities

The largest growing source of water pollution in the U.S. is stormwater runoff: rainwater that washes across landscapes often collecting and carrying trash, bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, animal waste and other pollutants to our local waterways. Green infrastructure practices reduce stormwater runoff by mimicking nature and capturing rainwater so it can be reused, temporarily retained, or allowed to infiltrate into the soil. These practices also help reduce the flooding risk and basement back-ups and ease the burden on the combined sewer system in the Milwaukee area during large storms. Green infrastructure practices provide other environmental, social and economic benefits, including better air quality and cooling of the urban heat island effect thanks to more trees and vegetation, increased pollinator habitat, community engagement and job opportunities installing and maintaining green infrastructure.

Green Infrastructure

Education, Outreach and Installation:

Clean Wisconsin began our green infrastructure work around Milwaukee’s 30th Street Corridor in 2014 to help address stormwater issues that have challenged businesses and residents in the area for decades. Climate change will only make these challenges worse without significant investment in stormwater infrastructure. Catastrophic flooding in July 2010 caused $32 million dollars in damage to local businesses, the loss of 250 jobs, and hundreds of basement back-ups in people’s homes. Since then, MMSD and the City of Milwaukee have invested in flood-mitigation strategies, including three large stormwater detention basins to hold rainwater and allow it to drain slowly to Lincoln Creek. The green infrastructure Clean Wisconsin has worked with residents to install complement these larger flood management projects to reduce flood risk and stormwater pollution.

Since 2014, in partnership with MMSD, we have engaged thousands of residents, installed more than 700 rain barrels, 63 rain gardens, along with other practices—an estimated 50,000 gallons of stormwater capacity – which then captures about 2.45 million gallons of stormwater over the course of a year.  These efforts support MMSD’s 2035 goal of capturing the first half inch of rain in green infrastructure across the 28-municipality MMSD service area, as laid out in their Regional Green Infrastructure Plan.

People in a Milwaukee community planting a rain garden together
People in a Milwaukee community celebrating their rain management program outdoors in front of a hand painted sign
Milwaukee community members using shovels to dig up turf in a yard in the rain
A group shot of Milwaukee community members with the rain garden they recently planted
Five Milwaukee community members posing in front of a house where they are planting a rain garden
Community members in Milwaukee Wisconsin work together to plant a rain garden in a neighborhood front yard
Volunteers, children and community members in Milwaukee, Wisconsin plant gardens in front of an elementary school
People in a Milwaukee community planting a rain garden together
People in a Milwaukee community celebrating their rain management program outdoors in front of a hand painted sign
Milwaukee community members using shovels to dig up turf in a yard in the rain
A group shot of Milwaukee community members with the rain garden they recently planted
Five Milwaukee community members posing in front of a house where they are planting a rain garden
Community members in Milwaukee Wisconsin work together to plant a rain garden in a neighborhood front yard
Volunteers, children and community members in Milwaukee, Wisconsin plant gardens in front of an elementary school

Green Infrastructure Workshops:

Scaling up green infrastructure in the Milwaukee area and across the state requires all stakeholders to understand its multiple benefits, the best practices for their site, and how to successfully fund and install green infrastructure.  Clean Wisconsin has now organized multiple workshops for potential implementers of green infrastructure, from residents, community organizations, and houses of worship, to municipalities, developers, and businesses.  The workshops present an important opportunity for people to learn about regulatory changes and funding opportunities, and they provide a critical learning opportunity for potential implementers of green infrastructure to learn about it from their peers.

Updating Local Codes and Ordinances

Green infrastructure practices continue to gain popularity and are increasingly used on private and public property to help manage rainwater where it falls, reducing stormwater pollution and flood risk.  However, these practices remain relatively new, and many local zoning, stormwater, landscaping, and other municipal codes and ordinances must be updated to enable and encourage the use of green infrastructure.  Clean Wisconsin, in partnership with MMSD, the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Birchline Planning, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helps municipalities update their codes and ordinances to both allow and better integrate the use of green infrastructure in our urban and suburban landscapes.

Focusing On

Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice Roundtable

Clean Wisconsin is partnering with Milwaukee Water Commons to hold regular meetings environmental justice leaders, stakeholders and Evers Administration officials to help uplift underrepresented voices around environmental justice issues and prioritize actions for advocacy. Some of those priorities include: creation of a statewide Office of Environmental Justice, continued work to ensure clean drinking water in both urban and rural areas, and investing in workforce development to improve water infrastructure and to transition our energy and transportation systems to confront the climate crisis.

Our shared leadership of the roundtable helps us to prioritize aspects of our program work to best support environmental justice initiatives statewide and determine how we can most effectively engage in both local and state-level policy decisions relevant to environmental justice.

City-County Take Force on Climate and Economic Equity

Our Milwaukee Program Director Pamela Ritger de la Rosa serves on the City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity (CCTFCEE), chairing the Green Buildings and Climate Resilience Work Groups, and is an active participant in the Transportation and Mobility Work Group. The work groups have been developing Milwaukee-specific policy and project recommendations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 while increasing economic equity. We are excited to be involved in development of these local policies and projects, the implementation of which can be furthered by federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act investments to the local level.

Some of the policy and project recommendations in development include aligning lead paint abatement and energy efficiency in underserved Milwaukee neighborhoods, a 20% reduction in vehicle miles traveled through investments in transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and transition to a net zero electric grid. We look forward to continuing our leadership on the Task Force to help implement the Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan.

Milwaukee Office

OTHER PROGRAMS AND INITIATIVES

Childhood lead poisoning continues to harm children across the state, especially in Milwaukee.  Lead poisoning can have a devastating effect on children, as it can cause neurological and developmental delays, irreversible brain damage, is associated with adverse physical, mental and behavioral outcomes, and can even cause death.  Children are exposed to toxic lead hazards through lead paint and dust, lead in soil, and lead in water, among other sources.  Clean Wisconsin is supporting efforts to reduce lead poisoning through our policy efforts at the local, state, and federal levels.

Find out more: Protecting our Drinking Water from Lead

Since 2019, Clean Wisconsin has served as the Wisconsin co-lead for the Healing our Waters Great Lakes Restoration Coalition, along with Milwaukee Water Commons.  The goal of the Healing Our Waters Coalition is to advocate for Great Lakes restoration and protection policies at the federal level, as well as federal funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  The culmination of this work each year is the convening of 10-20 environmental stakeholders from across the state, including Wisconsinites from urban and rural areas, communities of color and members of Tribal Nations, to advocate for these Great Lakes policies, priorities and funding directly with members of the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation.

Clean Wisconsin’s Pamela Ritger de la Rosa is part of the Community Advisory Committee for the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC). The estuary was once a pristine natural ecosystem where the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers flowed unimpeded into Lake Michigan. But after more than two centuries of population growth, development and pollution from industrial and agricultural activity, the estuary has become the focus of a major cleanup effort.

 

Environmental remediation of the AOC has been on-going for decades through a variety of projects, including concrete removal and naturalization of stretches of the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers, removal of the North Avenue, Falk, and Lime Kiln dams, as well as contaminated sediment removal from parts of the Milwaukee River that flow through Lincoln Park. The Community Advisory Committee for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC connects community members to the on-going environmental remediation and restoration efforts taking place and elevates community voices in decision-making.

Seventy percent of opioid addictions start at home, very often from unused medication left in medicine cabinets.  Flushing or throwing unused medications into the trash means that those pharmaceuticals can end up in our waterways, affecting aquatic life and polluting Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for Milwaukee and many southeastern Wisconsin communities.  To help address these problems, Clean Wisconsin joined with partners in health care, substance abuse prevention, and other community partners to form Take Back My Meds Coalitions in Milwaukee and Racine Counties.  The coalitions focus on placing secure drop-boxes in convenient locations throughout Milwaukee and Racine Counties so that community members can dispose of their unused pharmaceuticals responsibly.

Coal-tar based pavement sealants are the primary source of toxic PAH pollution in urban landscapes.  PAHs increase cancer risk, hurt fish and other aquatic life in our waterways, and soils contaminated with PAHs are very expensive for municipalities to remove and dispose of properly.  Given these costs, and the fact that alternatives to these pavements exist, Clean Wisconsin has worked with 24 Wisconsin municipalities - most of which are in the Milwaukee area – to ban the use of these toxic sealants.  Moreover, we are working to ban coal-tar based pavement sealants statewide.

Find out more: Ending the use of high-PAH sealants