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Environmental Improvements Our Work

Stormwater Information and Resources

Stormwater Information and Resources

What is Green Infrastructure?

Green infrastructure captures rain water where it falls and absorbs water into the ground, keeping it out of the sewer system. This is especially important in places with a lot of paved surface. 

Green Infrastructure, as opposed to gray infrastructure like sewers, can take numerous forms like rain gardens, barrels, and porous pavers for parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks. All of these strategies store or absorb rain where it falls, keeping it out of our sewer system, which helps:

  • Protect rivers and lakes from water pollution.
  • Keep it from becoming someone else’s headache downstream.
  • Reduce the risk of basement backups, flooding, and sewer overflow.
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Environmental Improvements Our Work

Ecology

Ecology

Even though the Harbor District is in the very heart of Milwaukee and has been the center of economic activity for centuries, there is still a healthy community of organisms that live here. From mammals like deer, coyotes, gray and red fox, muskrats, beavers, groundhogs, squirrels, and bats all the way down to dragonflies, insects, and barely visible invertebrates in the water, a rich ecology is thriving just out of sight. The Harbor District has identified ways to improve habitat so that more things besides humans can find a home here, through rebuilding ecological functioning of the landscape. We do this by considering the needs of organisms for food, reproduction, shelter, and movement. Finding opportunities to re-introduce native plants and reserving space for animals is at the heart of this implementation, while also encouraging everyone to remember that nature is right here if you just stop to look and listen.

Harbor District has partnered with the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee Public Museum to learn more about the wildlife present. In 2019, we conducted surveys of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bats, and mammals. We found over sixty different species!
A great way to help collect information on wildlife and plants in the Harbor District is to use the smartphone app iNaturalist. It connects you with experts who can identify the species you find and keeps a log of everything you have observed.
Even within our developed urban landscape, many different kinds of animals make a home or roam through. We can improve the Harbor District’s ability to support wildlife by considering their needs and incorporating native plants and trees, connections between green spaces, and softening armored shorelines.
The Harbor District Terrestrial Habitat Plan (2020) identifies current and potential habitat areas and a vision for improving the ability of the Harbor District to support a rich and diverse biotic community.
MILWAUKEE AREA OF CONCERN (AOC)
Milwaukee’s waterways, including the inner harbor at the heart of the Harbor District, bear the legacy of decades of pollution and contamination from past industries, dumping of sanitary waste, and other degradation. In fact, the EPA has characterized our estuary as one of the most “impaired” around the Great Lakes and designated it an “Area of Concern.” Harbor District, Inc. is active in efforts to clean up the contamination, repair ecological function, and make other improvements that will allow us to remove the Area of Concern designation.
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Environmental Improvements Our Work

Trash Wheel

Trash Wheel

Harbor District, Inc. is exploring the possibility of having a “trash wheel” on the Kinnickinnic River to help collect trash and debris before it floats to the Inner Harbor and to Lake Michigan.

The trash wheel, a stationary trash-collecting device, includes a water wheel which runs a conveyor belt. A pair of booms direct trash floating down the river to the conveyor belt, and then trash is collected in a dumpster for removal.

The trash wheel technology was pioneered in Baltimore in 2014 by inventor John Kellett. There, “Mr. Trash Wheel” and “Professor Trash Wheel” have collected over 1.3 million pounds of trash in the past 3 years out of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Mr. Trash Wheel is very active on Twitter and is helping to spread the word about the health of Baltimore’s waterways. We think Milwaukee would be a great place for Mr. Trash Wheel’s cousin to get to work cleaning our urban rivers, too.

To learn more about our inspiration, Mr. Trash Wheel, please visit http://baltimorewaterfront.com/healthy-harbor/water-wheel/.

Categories
Environmental Improvements Our Work

Habitat Hotels

Habitat Hotels

WHAT ARE HABITAT HOTELS?

The Harbor District Habitat Hotels are underwater habitats retrofitted for steel sheet piling. They provide multiple vertical layers of habitat, including underwater plantshiding places for fish, and food for fish, and mimic the habitat that might be found along more naturalized river shorelines.

CHECK OUT THE UNDERWATER FOOTAGE!

WHAT ARE HABITAT HOTELS?

The downtown portions of the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Milwaukee Rivers are dominated by steel sheet piling shorelines, making it extremely difficult for plants to grow along the bank. Steel sheet piling provides almost no habitat benefits, but it is used widely in urban areas because it serves other important purposes: protecting buildings and properties from flooding and storms, providing deep channels needed for shipping and boating, and allowing large freighter ships to easily dock. Further, the inner harbor is also dredged to maintain depths of 25+ feet to support shipping and industry in the area. As such, the inner harbor area of Milwaukee is known as an aquatic desert, lacking habitat and opportunities for fish to find food and cover. The Habitat Hotels provide needed “pit stops” for fish as they travel through the inner harbor between Lake Michigan and Milwaukee’s three rivers.

By introducing Habitat Hotels in the Red Zone, we are connecting areas of better habitat in the rivers to the habitat in Lake Michigan. Many fish swim between the rivers and the Lake to reproduce or to complete other life stages, so the inner harbor serves as a very important intersection.

Where are they?

Habitat Hotels are currently installed in three distinct locations across the Harbor District and are marked with fish art painted in the Harbor District colors. As the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences continues working on their Harbor Habitat Mapping Project, we will prioritize future installation locations based on potential improvements to habitat connectivity – essentially making a string of Habitat Hotels between other areas of rich habitat – in the Inner Harbor.
Repurposed restaurant grade fryer baskets serve as underwater planter baskets.
Water Celery that was planted in 2017!
Habitat Hotel being visited by a yearling perch!

Habitat Hotel Benefits

  1. LOW COST AND EASY TO REPRODUCE
  2. LOW MAINTENANCE
  3. NOT A NAVIGATION HAZARD FOR SHIPS
  4. WISCONSIN WINTER-PROOF
  5. MODULAR TO ALLOW FOR EASY MODIFICATIONS
  6. PROVIDES COMPLEX HABITAT SPACES AT VARIOUS DEPTHS IN WATER COLUMN
  7. PROVIDES COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OPPORTUNITIES
  8. ENGAGING EDUCATIONAL ARTWORK ABOVE THE WATER

Project History

DESIGNING HABITAT HOTELS
We received funding from the Fund for Lake Michigan to explore habitat solutions for steel sheet piling. This funding allowed Harbor District staff to work with scientists, staff, and students from UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences to inform the Habitat Hotel design process. In April 2018, the Habitat Hotels were granted a provisional patent shared by UW-Milwaukee and Harbor District, Inc.
PILOT PROJECT
We received a Mini Grant from the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, initiating the pilot phase. The pilot study included building 8 Habitat Hotels and installing them in May 2017.
ASSEMBLY
Welding students from Bradley Technical High School build the Habitat Hotels as part of a class project. Over 100 students have been exposed to the project and have learned about Milwaukee’s aquatic ecology. Students get to apply the technical skills they are learning to a real-world solution.
HABITAT HOTEL LOCATIONS
We work with great partners who serve as “site hosts” for the Habitat Hotels, including The School of Freshwater Science, Elementis LTP, and Paul Davis Restoration.

HARBOR DISTRICT INC. WORKS WITH LOCAL SCHOOLS

Bradley Tech students perfecting welding skills.
Students operate the plasma cutter.
Elementary students present habitat plans
Students plant native vegitation.

Project Funders