Don't rush the greenway project

Stormwater plans usually involve compromise. This is nowhere better illustrated than at the West Towne mall. When the area was developed in the 1960s, engineers needed to plan for the large amount of runoff that would come from huge parking lots and expansive roofs. At that location, the runoff would have flooded into a low area just south of Memorial High School. From there, it would have to reach Lake Mendota through pipes under residential areas.

Through good planning, the engineering department was able to moderate the flooding and reduce the cost of the project. They came up with a plan to create three ponds that would store the floodwaters; the ponds were bordered by soccer fields.

After a heavy storm, the ponds rise to flood the playing fields, giving the ponds a huge capacity. Sometimes soccer suffers, but not very often. The result is a good compromise between engineering, recreation, and wildlife.

Is there a possibility for one or more small ponds upstream from the ravine, to moderate floodwaters? Possibly not, but it should be considered. Or, chanelling street runoff into numerous rain gardens could serve the same purpose.

This project shows that Engineering isn’t the villain. They are just doing what we want--to make sewage and storm water vanish, at the lowest cost. Rather than waiting for some neighborhood to flood, then rescue it--instead, they make sure flooding doesn’t happen, or that it’s controlled.

In the case of the Upland-Hillcrest Greenway, we need to make sure there’s enough time to find a good plan. All sides have to be heard, to reach a compromise. Residents will have to step forward to take some responsibility for their neglected ravine. Additional funding may have to be sought from grants or the private sector. In the process, we shouldn’t lose sight of the larger picture--the chance to build a healthy watershed in Sunset Village, and the chance to make it a greener and more pleasant place to live. Streams are unique and precious resources that humanize our surroundings.

To take a “virtual tour” of the West Towne runoff ponds: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35544042@N06/sets/72157621828454641/show/

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