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Greenfield plugs MMSD dollars into drains

Funds encourage homeowners to keep water out of sewers

March 6, 2012

Greenfield - To reduce the need to dump diluted raw sewage into Lake Michigan and into area rivers, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is offering cash for homeowners to disconnect their foundation drains from sanitary sewers.

Greenfield's Board of Public Works decided Greenfield residents should get a shot at some of that money, so it recommended the city's first residential inflow and infiltration sanitary sewer reduction program. If approved by the Common Council on March 20 and by the MMSD, 75 percent of the $6,000 to $10,000 cost of disconnecting drains and switching over to sump pumps would be covered by the MMSD.

About 25 percent of Greenfield's homes have foundation drains connected to sanitary sewers because they were built before 1954, when the connections were legal, said Richard Sokol, director of neighborhood services.

But those connections make it more likely the MMSD will have to dump sewage into the lake and rivers. When it rains, rainwater from the foundation drains floods into its sewage treatment plants, overwhelming them so dumping is the only option to prevent sewage backup into peoples' basements. However, foundation drains connected to sanitary sewers are only one of many ways rain gets into the MMSD sewage treatment plants.

Greenfield officials have resisted approving a residential rainwater reduction program because of uneasiness that the MMSD would expect the city to make disconnections mandatory, Sokol said.

While city officials still are still against ordering disconnecting drains that were legal when homes were built, Sokol said they also want to help out at least one homeowner who wants to voluntarily disconnect.

The proposed program would be for them and whoever else wants to disconnect, Sokol said.

"The city is doing what it can to make the money available," he said.

Alderwoman Linda Lubotsky, chair of the Board of Public Works, said she supports the measure.

"This isn't shoving it down the throats of residents," she said.

As to making homeowners disconnect, she said, "I don't think people have the money to do that right now."

Alderwoman Shirley Saryan, who is on the board, said, "Due to the cost and difficulty of changing the sewer once it's in place, the city will not require homeowners to make the change. Who knows what the future holds?"

The proposed program also would include some MMSD reimbursement for other types of improvements, such as disconnecting downspouts from sanitary sewers.

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