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A Special WUWM News SeriesThe Milwaukee River allowed commerce and industry to thrive during the city's formative years and provided recreation. However, disregard for the river's health led to decades of decay.WUWM News explores recent developments to rejuvenate the Milwaukee River and their success at drawing people back to the city's historic arterial.

North Point Lighthouse Backdrop for a New Stormwater Management System

Credit North Point Lighthouse Friends
North Point Lighthouse

NorthPoint Lighthouse Friendsspent years raising money to transform the 1888 station in Milwaukee's Lake Park from a decaying structure to gleaming public space.

“The keeper's quarters, it was in pretty bad shape, there was nothing to preserve in the inside. We took out the non-load bearing partitions and made exhibit space for what you’ve seen inside,” group president John Scripp says. 

Scripp says the undertaking cost $1.6 million, and after 10 tough years of work inside, the volunteers hadn’t mustered the energy or money to tend to the eroded ravine outside or its crumbling pedestrian trail.

The friends group knew storm water was a problem and installed a small rain garden. "One thing we didn't do was to put pavement on the driveway and our small parking area. Early on we wanted to finish it with some pavement that would be appropriate and thought of pervious pavement. But we didn't succeed in getting that done," Scripp says. 

The volunteers' vision of what they could achieve expanded when they met civil engineer Carrie Bristoll-Groll. She owns Stormwater Solutions Engineering and was eager to test out a new stormwater management tool.

It carries a cumbersome name - Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance, or RSC. The technology has been around for well over a decade, but Bristoll-Groll says it’s new to Wisconsin.

Credit Susan Bence
Adrienne Cizek, Alyssa Schmitt and Carrie Bristoll-Groll. Schmitt designed the raingarden and permeable pavement system for the North Point Lighthouse project.

A member of her team, project engineer Adrienne Cizek, learned about RSCs while working on her PhD at North Carolina State University. Cizek studied places where RSCs are commonplace – especially installations along Chesapeake Bay.

“Basically what they are is a series of pools or raingardens. You have a pool then a drop to the next pool to next pool, so it’s a stair step of pools,” Cizek says.

She says the rainwater cascades over rocks on its way to the pool below. Along the way native vegetation drinks up some of the water and filters out pollutants such as phosphorus and bacteria.

Cizek says traditional stormwater technology often chops the process up into three phases – storing the rainwater; treating it, “which we see in bio retention systems [and] conveyance, sort of slowing down the flow."

Cizek says RSC wraps those elements into a single footprint, mimicking nature. She learned they also come with fringe benefits, like creating wildlife habitat and providing humans with the opportunity to learn and play.

Credit Stormwater Solutions Engineering

Cizek convinced her boss to give RSCs a try.

“She was really diligent in saying you need to sit down and listen to me and so I finally did and it is not something we’re doing in Wisconsin or really in the Midwest,” Carrie Bristoll-Groll says.

Her team carried out its own pilot – constructing a small RSC system for a client in Illinois. “We called it engineers without state borders,” Bristoll-Groll says.

Then she reached out to local contractors. “We had one of the east coast specialists call in and talk us through some of the mishaps he’s seen in the past, or some of the pitfalls,” she says.

Finally a potential project collided with funding, when she learned the North Point Lighthouse Friends were looking at making some stormwater management upgrades.

Credit Susan Bence
John Scripp, May Klisch and Kevin Walzak with North Point Lighthouse Friends

“Initially they wanted just a porous pavement driveway to the lighthouse and a couple of raingardens. We said that’s good, but it’s not good enough to get a grant. We need to be a little sexier than that,” Bristoll-Groll says.

She had her eye on the highly-eroded ravine near the North Point Lighthouse.

John Scripp hopes by the end of the summer visitors will see Adrienne Cizek’s design - 14 pools interspersed by five cascades.

And the system should do more than look and act natural, the RSC is meant to withstand a 100-year storm.

“It’s something that we call ‘connect the dots’ – of stormwater, pollution, preservation, management,” Scripp says.

It is costing nearly $300,000 to connect the dots – much of it grant money. Scripp says volunteers are raising the final $40,000 needed to create Milwaukee’s first Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance system.

Oh, and the lighthouse will also get its porous pavements and raingardens!

Credit North Point Lighthouse Friends
North Point Lighthouse pre-1912

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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