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Municipalities Continue Improvements to Prevent Flooding

Severe weather has been pummeling southern Wisconsin this week. On Tuesday, tornadoes tore through three central counties, while in the Milwaukee area, residents lost power and tree limbs. Wednesday followed with strong winds and flood warnings, not to mention pitch-dark skies. There’s no tally here of people finding water in their basement, but communities have made improvements to keep basements dry.

There were stormy summers here that people remember.

For Shorewood resident Lynne Belcher, it was 2008. She says by the time the rain ended, her basement was flooded.

“Picture eight feet of water in your basement. We had a rec room down there and storage and we lost everything. Our washer our dryer our water heater, all of our furniture, my husband had his office down there. You know, everything,” Belcher says.

Belcher said luckily, she and her husband had purchased home insurance that covered almost everything. But after paying that large claim in 2008, the company cancelled the policy. Belcher says while her basement has since remained dry, she’s happy the village has begun investing in its sewer infrastructure.

“Right now if you want to come to our house, the whole street is torn up because they’re laying new sewers one house away from our house. We’re on Wildwood almost to the corner, and on the corner of Wildwood and Glendale they are laying all new sewers down Glendale,” Belcher says.

Three years ago, Shorewood approved spending nearly $8.5 million to upgrade its storm and sanitary sewers so they’re contents don’t back up into homes when heavy rains fall. Leeann Butschlick is director of public works.

“There are improvements to both the storm sewer and the sanitary sewer in that area that were designed to provide some separation between  the Shorewood and Whitefish Bay systems which we believe will increase capacity for both communities,” Butshlick says.

But Butschlick says while they are making improvements, there are never guarantees. There’s always the threat that the next storm is larger than the system can handle.

Shorewood isn’t the only municipality that’s been working to ensure basement backups become a thing of the past. The City of Milwaukee has spent more than a $1 million to replace sewer mains, while the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is also doing its part. Kevin Shafer is executive director.

“One of the first things we’ve done, and we started this in 2010-2011 time frame, was to start a program where we’re working with private property owners to try to reduce the amount of clear water, rain water getting into the pipe they own which goes from their house to the street,” Schafer says.

That pipe is called a lateral. Schafer says over the next 10 years, the district will spend $58 million lining pipes to prevent storm water from entering them. He also says the MMSD is also redesigning certain river corridors – such as the Kinnickkinnic, so they don’t flood during major storms.

“I think we’re seeing a changing climate right now that we’re trying to get ahead of with some of our design and construction. But it’s going to be one of those things that we’re going to have to continuously work on, and you won’t have a silver bullet approach that will just solve all the problems. There’s always going to be different issues that we need to address,” Schafer says.

As far as this week’s downpours are concerned, Schafer says everything seems to be working as it should. The sewerage district did have to discharge some overflow into the Milwaukee River, so the system didn’t back up into homes.

“You have to remember when you have a combined sewer overflow is that something like 95 percent of the water that’s going into the river right now is rain water. So that would have gone to the rivers anyway if it had not made it into the sanitary systems,” Schafer says.

The forecast calls for rain to continue through Friday.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.