Wauwatosa to continue attacking basement backups

Peter Zuzga
A duck floats by near a sidewalk in Hart Park after a heavy rainfall in June of 2010. Heavy rains earlier in the day caused the Menomonee River to breach its banks and partially flood the park.
Published on: 11/7/2012

If you are enjoying the detours, blocked streets and precarious sidewalks of the Meinecke Avenue Flood Mitigation Project, which is still under way, there are a number of similar projects to look forward to in the city's capital improvements budget for the years 2013 through 2017.

The document shows, in the words of Finance Director John Ruggini, "continued emphasis to eliminate basement backups."

The budget, which lays out city infrastructure spending for the next five years, met approval last week at the city's Budget Committee, and has yet to come before Common Council for final approval. It projects spending of $32 million for 2013, and almost $111 million through 2017.

The Meinecke Avenue project, designed to address a rash of basement backups in 2009 and 2010, will continue into the summer, according to city Department of Public Works officials. At $14.5 million, it is "the largest and most costly public works construction project in recent memory," said City Administrator Jim Archambo in his written introduction to the budget.

And yet, it addresses just one part of the city afflicted by flooding. Other projects are planned, and "full implementation of these projects will take decades to achieve at cost figures that dwarf the Meinecke project," Archambo said.

Projects along Milwaukee Avenue, Watertown Plank Road and in the Ravenswood neighborhood are among the most significant to be started next year.

Milwaukee Avenue

Milwaukee Avenue is destined for rebuilding - with new sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water mains - from 83rd Street east to Wauwatosa Avenue, at the corner occupied by Lincoln Elementary School, according to the project description.

At a cost of $6.59 million, the work is designed to prevent street flooding and basement backups in its region and divert sewage from the State Street sewer, to "reduce the frequency and severity of backups in businesses along State Street."

The city hopes the plan will make it possible to avoid having to "upsize" the State Street sewer, which the project description says is only about 30 years old.

Watertown Plank

The Watertown Plank project will take place north and south of the road. The work creeps along Diane Drive on the south, near 115th Street, and moves up 117th Street on the north, all the way to Gilbert Avenue, just a block short of Garfield Avenue. Branches of this northern route will reach out to replace sanitary sewers along Vliet Street, Elmhurst Parkway, Walnut Road and 122nd Street, stretching almost all the way up to the Wauwatosa Public Schools administration building on North Avenue.

This is another project - valued at $6.32 million over two years - designed to address "significant basement flooding issues," according to the project description. It will replace, enlarge and reline sanitary sewers in the neighborhoods along its route. A consultant's study said that infiltration and inflow are some of the problems with the system.


In Ravenswood, south of Bluemound Road and west of Glenview Avenue, a project costing $2 million over two years will repair and replace sewers that have caused basement backups during heavy rains. Some of this work will be done next year in conjunction with the state Department of Transportation, which will be rebuilding Glenview Avenue as part of the Zoo Interchange project. Other portions of the work will be done in 2014.

The streets affected include Glencoe Circle, Ravenswood Circle, Glencoe Place, Hill Street, a portion of 85th Street, and, of course, Glenview.

Policy needed

The city estimates that 70 to 80 percent of infiltration and inflow of generally clean water into the sanitary sewer system citywide originates from private sources - sump pumps, yard drains, foundation drains and leaking private laterals.

The excess water in the sanitary sewer system contributes to basement flooding.

The city is looking at a policy discussion with elected officials on how to address private property sources of excess water, said Bill Porter, director of public works. Two pilot projects are in the works, funded in large part through a program offered by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Keeping an eye on water mains

Water mains are another aspect of the city's pipeline system. A chart in the city's capital budget document shows there were 82 water main breaks per year on average over the last 10 years. Last year, there were 16 breaks in January and 22 in February; half the breaks in a typical year come in the first three months of the year, Water Superintendent James Wojcehowicz said.

"Our water system dates back to 1897 ... and we have 200 miles of water line to maintain," he said. "On the whole, we're pretty much on a par with other communities throughout the state of Wisconsin and around the Midwest" in terms of water main breaks.

Wojcehowicz said the number of breakages has dropped since before 2001, when the average was 95 a year.

"We've strategically approached water main replacements to get rid of a lot of the footage of the old failing mains," he said, "so that number has reduced dramatically over time."

Many of the pipes are huge, and buried as deep as 10 feet, and when one breaks they are usually fixed in less than a day, he said.