Before and after asphalt removal
Before and after asphalt removal at the Parkside School for the Arts in Milwaukee (Summer 2016). Image: Courtesy of City of Milwaukee.

Like many other cities, Milwaukee’s storm and sewer system was built more than 100 years ago. And its capacity to handle heavy downpours is limited.

Shambarger: “Stormwater in modest amounts we can manage. And we’ve built sewers and infrastructure to manage routine rain events, but with climate change we are concerned about the increased risk of extreme storms which can overwhelm our systems.”

That’s Erick Shambarger, sustainability director for the City of Milwaukee. He says the city is finding ways to capture and store rainwater.

Shambarger: “To basically manage stormwater where it falls and in doing so take pressure off our sewer systems.”

Some of the strategies include turning vacant lots into green spaces, building storm cisterns, and installing porous pavement that allows rainwater to soak into the ground instead of running directly into a storm drain.

For every inch of rain, about seven billion gallons of water fall on the Milwaukee metropolitan area. And heavy downpours are expected to become more common.

Shambarger: “So in order to really deal with climate change at a big level we’ve got to scale up the amount of green infrastructure that we’re doing in a big way.”

Reporting credit: Mikey Kettinger/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Justyna Bicz is a Climate Connections contributor based in Chicago.