Gar­den boxes de­signed to help pre­vent sewer over­flows

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Don Behm DON

home­owner Aaron Pierce says he can no longer be blamed for con­tribut­ing to over­flows of com­bined san­i­tary and storm sew­ers in the city.

Pierce took the step of dis­con­nect­ing the roof down­spout on his N. Pierce St. home from a pipe drain­ing to the com­bined sewer in the street and pre­vent­ing hun­dreds of gal­lons of clear wa­ter from en­ter­ing the sewer dur­ing a storm.

That was no small ac­com­plish­ment on his 30-foot-wide lot on the north side since there isn’t enough lawn to ab­sorb all of the wa­ter com­ing off the roof. The city pro­hibits wa­ter from a prop­erty owner’s down­spout from flood­ing a neigh­bor’s yard or caus­ing ice to form on a side­walk, street or al­ley.

Rain­wa­ter run­ning off Pierce’s roof is di­verted to a 10-foot-long Stor­mGUARDen, a spe­cially de­signed box filled with tubs of soil and topped with flow­ers and na­tive grasses that can col­lect all the wa­ter from storms drop­ping up to 3 inches of rain. The drain pipe to the com­bined sewer is capped.

Pierce has watched the state-of-theart con­tainer gar­den fill in a storm to en­sure it worked as ad­ver­tised, he said.

“The re­ally cool part of it,” said Pierce, is the over­flow drain at the low end of the box po­si­tioned more than 10 feet from the home’s foundation. This fea­ture al­lows him to in­te­grate the Stor­mGUARDen into the re­main­der of his back­yard land­scape, he said.

Pierce planted a sep­a­rate flower gar­den downs­lope from the drain to re­ceive the wa­ter.

The Mil­wau­kee Metropoli­tan Sew­er­age Dis­trict is spread­ing the word that own­ers of thou­sands of small city lots now have op­tions for dis­con­nect­ing their down­spouts from com­bined sew­ers and help­ing to pre­vent sewer over­flows. When com­bined sew­ers in cen­tral Mil­wau­kee and the east­ern half of Shore­wood fill dur­ing heavy rains, they over­flow into the deep tun­nel. If the tun­nel fills to ca­pac­ity, ex­cess waste­water in the com­bined sew­ers over­flows into lo­cal rivers and Lake Michi­gan.

Work to be done this sum­mer

MMSD has pro­posed spend­ing more than $192,000 this sum­mer to in­stall 27 Stor­mGUARDens, as well as 15 tiered rain gar­dens with re­tain­ing walls on steep slopes and 22 standard rain gar­dens on level lawns at a to­tal of 64 res­i­dences in the com­bined sewer area of cen­tral Mil­wau­kee.

These above-ground in­stal­la­tions along with rain bar­rels and rooftop gar­dens are known as green in­fra­struc­ture and pro­vide al­ter­na­tives to the more costly pipes, or gray in­fra­struc­ture, tra­di­tion­ally used to col­lect stormwa­ter.

MMSD has set a goal of work­ing with prop­erty own­ers to in­stall enough green in­fra­struc­ture by 2035 to cap­ture 740 mil­lion gal­lons of stormwa­ter ev­ery time it rains. This sum­mer’s in­stal­la­tions will be con­sid­ered demon­stra­tion projects to show other nearby prop­erty own­ers how they could help pre­vent clear wa­ter from fill­ing the sew­ers, said Karen Sands, MMSD di­rec­tor of plan­ning, re­search and sus­tain­abil­ity.

The MMSD com­mis­sion’s pol­icy and fi­nance com­mit­tee on Mon­day rec­om­mended award­ing the in­stal­la­tion con­tract to The Green Team of Wis­con­sin Inc., a Mil­wau­kee-based com­pany. Blue Skies Landscaping, a pro­gram of Wal­nut Way Con­ser­va­tion Corp., is a sub­con­trac­tor for the project.

The dis­trict com­mis­sion will act on the con­tract at its June 21 meet­ing.

The 64 prop­er­ties are lo­cated in three of the most densely de­vel­oped neigh­bor­hoods — Sil­ver City, Burn­ham Park and Pu­laski Park — on the city’s south side, ac­cord­ing to Sands. The Sil­ver City neigh­bor­hood is gen­er­ally west of S. Lay­ton Blvd. and north of W. Green­field Ave. Home­own­ers in the pro­gram will not have to pay for the in­stal­la­tion.

Mil­wau­kee com­pany’s de­sign

The value of each of these green in­fra­struc­ture in­stal­la­tions on pri­vate prop­er­ties — $2,000 for a fully-planted Stor­mGUARDen — will be re­ported to the IRS for tax purposes, dis­trict of­fi­cials said.

The patent-pend­ing Stor­mGUARDen was de­signed by Car­rie Bris­toll-Groll, prin­ci­pal civil en­gi­neer and CEO at Stormwa­ter So­lu­tions En­gi­neer­ing LLC in Mil­wau­kee. The 10-foot-by-3-foot box com­bines the fea­tures of rain garMil­wau­kee dens and rain bar­rels, she said.

Rain­wa­ter from a down­spout first flows into a stone-filled trough in the cen­ter of the box. As the trough fills, the wa­ter drops into five sep­a­rate and re­mov­able tubs con­tain­ing soil and lay­ers of gravel. The gravel holds wa­ter to sus­tain plants dur­ing dry weather.

Ex­cess wa­ter from the tubs over­flows into the bot­tom of the box that it­self can hold 350 gal­lons of wa­ter, around the same ca­pac­ity as six and one-half rain bar­rels, Bris­tol-Groll said. As this reser­voir fills, the wa­ter is re­leased through small open­ings to the lawn.

Stormwa­ter So­lu­tions re­ceived a grant from The Wa­ter Coun­cil, a non­profit group based at the Global Wa­ter Cen­ter in Mil­wau­kee, to in­stall 10 of the Stor­mGUARDens in 2017 as a pi­lot project. Pierce agreed to test out one of those and an­other one is lo­cated next door, at the home of Har­lan Groll, Bris­tol-Groll’s son and a long-time en­gi­neer­ing tech­ni­cian at Stormwa­ter So­lu­tions. Groll now works as op­er­a­tions man­ager for Stor­mGUARDen.

This month, MMSD paid for in­stalling a Stor­mGUARDen at the Shore­wood Pub­lic Li­brary as part of a sep­a­rate demon­stra­tion project. MMSD is of­fer­ing to pay for a lim­ited num­ber of rain bar­rel and gar­den in­stal­la­tions, and even a few Stor­mGUARDens, this sum­mer in the vil­lage’s com­bined sewer area.

BEHM / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Aaron Pierce di­verted his home’s roof down­spout into a Stor­mGUARDen.

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