Wisconsin, DU using trees and wetlands to ease sewage system strain

Partners celebrate the first of 6 million trees near Milwaukee to improve sewage system capacities.

Partners celebrate the first of 6 million trees near Milwaukee to improve sewage system capacities.

MILWAUKEE – Oct. 13, 2022 – The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Ducks Unlimited, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and several other partners have launched an innovative 10-year effort that uses nature to combat growing flood threats in southeast Wisconsin.

The Reforestation and Wetland Restoration Program will plant six million trees and restore 4,000 acres of wetland habitat on more than 1,100 square miles of Greater Milwaukee watersheds that drain directly into Lake Michigan. The initial phase will invest $3.8 million to begin planting and wetland restoration.

As the Milwaukee region became increasingly urbanized, its wetlands, forests and meadows were replaced with hard surfaces such as streets, parking lots and rooftops preventing rain and melting snow from naturally absorbing back into the soil. The natural drainage system for the watershed was lost, leaving water with nowhere to go and making the area particularly prone to flooding.

Shifts in land use combined with increases in precipitation add additional stress to the infrastructure needed by the community. One inch of rain in the Milwaukee area equates to about 7.1 billion gallons of water that falls on the land.

Planting six million trees will enable the ground to store an additional 350 million gallons of stormwater. Restoring 4,000 acres of wetlands is similar to putting thousands of acres of sponge on the landscape – up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater can be stored in every wetland acre.

“The Reforestation and Wetland Restoration Program uses natural infrastructure to restore the balance of human development and natural water cycles,” said Jamie Rader, director of operations for Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes/Atlantic Region. “This helps communities who need flood protection and also restores natural habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife.”

Other benefits include increased carbon sink potential and improved water and air quality.

Initial funding is provided by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the Wisconsin DNR and Ducks Unlimited. Additional partners providing expertise and support include Milwaukee County Parks, The Conservation Fund, City of Milwaukee Forestry and Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

An event Oct. 4 to celebrate the launch was attended by program partners and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Kevin Shafer, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District executive director, said collaboration is crucial to launching a project like this.

“We wanted to create habitat, we wanted to protect habitat and we wanted to reduce flooding downstream. There's a lot of work and partners lined up,” Shafer said.

Wisconsin DNR Secretary Preston Cole said the program helps wildlife as much as it does communities.

“This coalition brings together science, education, resources and of course, the people,” Cole said. “Over 1.3 million live within this project area. They will benefit from these reforestation and restoration efforts.”

Initial pilot project locations for the program include:

  • Mequon Nature Preserve: A 57-acre agricultural field converted to 10 acres of wetlands and 47acres of forest/pollinator habitat with an anticipated 65,000 planted trees. To be completed in 2023.
  • Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation: A 9.5-acre agricultural field converted to forests with an anticipated 16,000 trees planted.
  • City of Greenfield: A five-acre wetland restoration and anticipated 1,000 trees planted. A second site will plant 400 trees at a school forest.
  • City of Glendale: Reforestation in floodplain; anticipated 400 trees planted.
  • Range Line Valley Neighborhood: Eight acres of forest planted; anticipated 1,000 trees.

Funding for future phases of the project will be generated by project partners and determined at later dates.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.

Media Contact:
Chris Sebastian
(734) 649-4680