Greening Milwaukee

I’ve spent the past two days at a Freshwater Forum convened by The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, on the western shore of Lake Michigan outside Racine, Wisconsin.

Wingspread is the home designed for the Johnson family in the 1930’s by Frank Lloyd Wright. It provides an inspiring setting for this meeting of leaders from conservation, agriculture, utilities, health, government, foundations, and academia to look at how to meet our nation’s needs for clean water in the 21st century.

On the way here, I stopped in Milwaukee where Sean Foltz, Associate Director of  Clean Water for American Rivers, showed me some of the exciting green infrastructure projects he is working on. We saw green roofs on top of the Islamic cultural center and school and on the Energy Exchange. We visited a rain garden planted  at a school. Sean showed me how permeable paving stones are being used in commercial parking lots to reduce runoff and save businesses tens of  thousands of dollars annually in sewer fees.

One of the most exciting projects I saw is the work we are doing with the Milwaukee Housing Authority to replace outdated public housing units at Westlawn. The new development contains energy and water efficient housing units. American Rivers is working with the Housing Authority to design and  install bioswales and curb cuts throughout the new community to reduce and filter runoff from streets, sidewalks, and roofs.

Sean and the Housing Authority’s Glen Radford helped me see how important this effort is to protecting and restoring the water quality of Milwaukee’s Lincoln Creek, the water from which eventually ends up in Lake Michigan. Rivers connect us, in so many ways.