Sewer backups may become private problem
MMSD has a plan, but it could be costly for homes
Greenfield — As the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District continues to study solutions in the ongoing saga of flooded basements and overflows, officials have identified two areas in Greenfield they want to target for fixes.
Their goal is to reduce the amount of clean water that is going into the sanitary sewers in the northeastern part of the city, and thus prevent the type of water backups that are sometimes seen during even an average thunderstorm.
Greenfield city officials, however, are concerned it may be more money the already-strapped municipality will have to spend, and more taxes to residents in those affected areas.
A home target
MMSD plans to spend $150 million over a 10-year period in 23 areas in the district to reduce excessive flows of water into the sanitary sewer system.
District representatives said after 30 years of targeting public facilities for improvements, they now need to address the effect private properties have on sanitary sewers.
One origin of the problem is development that has come through over the years and filled spots which were once intermittent streams, eliminating a place for excess water to go, MMSD senior project manager Tom Simmons said.
In addition, many homes in those areas were built before 1954 and have foundation drains that connect directly with the lateral leading to the sanitary sewer, rather than to a sub-pump, MMSD spokesman Bill Graffin said.
That has been a big factor in the reason why peak flow rates were 2.8 times the limit at one watershed servicing Greenfield and Milwaukee.
"That water is just too much for what the sanitary sewers can handle," Simmons said.
The cost of the fix
The state building code now prohibits constructing foundation drains that way. But part of Mayor Michael Neitzke's frustration is that homeowners may have to spend thousands of dollars to change something that, because of when it was built, is legal.
Greenfield has to develop a program to reduce peak-flow rates in those two areas, according to a letter from MMSD to Neitzke. To him and other city officials, MMSD is imposing another costly mandate the city will have to fulfill.
Graffin and Simmons acknowledged the $150 million, which will be allocated proportionally to each community affected, will not be enough to address the issues and Greenfield would have to come up with additional money from somewhere.
MMSD is still studying possible fixes, which could be anything from homeowners buying rain barrels for downspouts to fixing leaky laterals.
"It boils down to managing water where it falls and keep it from becoming headaches," Graffin said.
But nothing is going to come quickly or easily for residents who have flooding water problems over the last three years. And no fix is possible for the severest of storms that have plagued the region for the past three summers.
"It isn't going to be done overnight," Simmons said. "It's going to take a good amount of time to address all the problems."
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