Contact us: 608-259-1000 or

Watershed Protection

Using Green Infrastructure for Watershed Protection in Wisconsin

water_1.01000 Friends is working with municipalities in southeast Wisconsin to help them clean up our waterways by using “green designs”.

While we know that we can do a better job of reducing storm water pollution by using strategies like bio-swales and green roofs, many communities have local laws that make it very difficult to use these and other kinds of green infrastructure.

Project One – Prioritizing Codes and Ordinances in the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Milwaukee Rivers Watersheds and the Lake Michigan Coastal Watershed for Green Infrastructure

With the help of a major grant from the Fund for Lake Michigan, we reviewed local codes and ordinances and identified the laws that created barriers to implementing green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure is a proven and effective means to improve water quality and habitat by reducing storm water pollution that flows into our waterways, but there are critical barriers to its implementation.

This project, addressed one of the key barriers: municipal codes and ordinances that limit the implementation of green infrastructure.

Municipal codes and ordinances have a broad impact, as they govern and can incentivize or deter green infrastructure implementation by both the private and public sectors. Modifications to local codes, ordinances, and review processes can encourage municipalities, builders and developers, as well as property owners, to implement green infrastructure practices.

The program partners for this project included:

The municipal partners for this project included: Germantown, Menomonee Falls, Butler, Brookfield, Wauwatosa, Elm Grove, City of Milwaukee, West Milwaukee, and Greenfield.

Juli Beth Hinds of Birchline Planning, a nationally recognized expert, consulted on the project.

Project Phases
The project consisted of 3 phases:

  • Phase 1 – conducted update to Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s 2005 audit of codes and ordinances;
  • Phase 2 – prioritized codes and ordinances needing revision by aligning with the needs of the watershed restoration plan and GIS analysis;
  • Phase 3 – met with our municipal partners and discussed recommendations and developed strategies to move prioritized revisions forward in their communities.

The project built local capacity and brought technical assistance for this work at a time when municipalities were facing restricted budgets and reductions in personnel.   By prioritizing needed revisions with the watershed restoration implementation plan and GIS analysis, the project will guide the efforts of municipal staff to undertake the work of code revisions where those changes will have the largest impact.

Project Objectives

The three central objectives of the project were:

  1. Clearly outlined barriers to green infrastructure that existed in current codes and ordinances that either prohibited or inhibited greater adoption of green infrastructure;
  2. Increased the potential for  revisions of green infrastructure-friendly codes by prioritizing codes for municipalities;
  3. Further enhanced the ability of the municipalities to advance codes/ordinance revisions by providing new language for the revisions tailored to their needs.

This project focused on the Menomonee River watershed municipalities, but the approach is replicable.  The project will help to facilitate the development of strategic code and ordinance revisions in other communities within watersheds draining to Lake Michigan.

Greater widespread adoption and implementation of green infrastructure practices has been made possible through the replicability of this project.

mkeProject Continuation and Expansion

Because of the success of the project, the review of codes and ordinances has been expanded to include more municipalities in the southeastern Wisconsin region.

With additional grants from Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), we were able to expand this work in the Menomonee River Watershed to include the Village of Mequon.

This grant also allowed for the expansion to the Kinnickinnic River watershed, including the municipalities of West Allis, Cudahy and St. Francis.

Current Codes & Ordinances Review Projects

An additional grant from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program has allowed this project to expand work to Bayside, Fox Point, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay.watershed2

Additional grant money from MMSD has expanded the work even further to include 11 more municipalities, including Brown Deer, Caledonia, Franklin, Glendale, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, New Berlin, Oak Creek, River Hills and Thiensville.

Our Municipal Partners:

View larger map

Learn more about Stormwater Management and Green Infrastructure

Green Innovations from PortlandBES on Vimeo.

Linking Water, People, & Prosperity in the Kinnickinnic River Watershed

Project Two – Green Infrastructure Support Tool

16thSt3The Challenge – Making progress on a limited budget

  • Health – Reducing asthma, chronic disease, and other health issues
  • Economic development – Creating good jobs, saving money, trimming costs
  • Stormwater – Reducing flooding, basement backups and combined sewer overflows
  • Energy costs – Reducing energy spending in order to invest in more of what matters
  • Community connection – Providing places to play, gather, and enjoy
  • Healthy water – Keeping the water that flows into rivers and lake clean

The Opportunity – Working together to pursue multiple goals

Achieving multiple goals can produce bigger results for less cost. Green Infrastructure – solutions like green roofs and rain gardens that capture and purify water and provide both social and economic benefit – can achieve these goals.

Over the next decade, state, regional and local agencies and individual residents and businesses will be spending millions on these problems one at a time. Instead – let’s get people from many sectors, armed with good strategies – to influence this investment, steering it toward opportunities that produce multiple benefits with greater results.

In 2015, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, and Climate Interactive are launching a process to pursue this possibility, inviting strategic thinkers from all sectors of the watershed to a series of workshops to identify the best opportunities at the intersection of these goals.

The Process – Dialog, computer support, and examples

Computer decision support tools can be used to project future consequences of a number of choices or investments. But, such tools can’t tell a community what combination of goals are of highest priority – only working together can do that. And sometimes, people need to learn from already implemented projects. The Linked Solutions process features three elements – rigorous, scientifically grounded analysis of scenarios, community conversations, and a chance to learn from existing examples in the watershed.

We’ll invite participation from strategic thinkers throughout the watershed, from municipalities, Milwaukee County, business groups, and community leaders dedicated to one or more of the goals that can realized with green infrastructure.

Steve Brachman at the first GIS-T workshop

Steve Brachman at the first GIST workshop

The Tool – The Green Infrastructure Decision Support Tool

The GIST project relies extensively on a decision support tool created by Climate Interactive with input from many in the watershed. The tool will allow us to ask ‘what if’ questions about different actions and investment, and, for each combination of options, see the impact on everything from flooding and basement backups to jobs, water quality, and energy savings.


advancing green infrastructure in the Menomonee River Watershed


Learn more