A question of community standards

At the Sunset Village meeting last week, some neighbors wanted to make sure that the City was going to follow "best practices" when repairing our greenway.

But after thinking about this more, I'd like to pose a question:  Sure, we want to employ best practices, but best... for what?  Practices are a means to an end.  What is our end?

When Madison was a young, people dumped sewage into the gutter or their back yards.  This was the current "best practice."  As the population grew, people got the bright idea of hooking up a number of houses in a neighborhood, and running a sewage pipe into Lake Mendota.  This was now the "best practice"--no more smelly sewage in the gutters!  It wasn't long before they noticed unfortunate changes in the lakes, and so practices had to change.  All the sewage pipes going to the lake were hooked to a central sewage plant.  This wasn't convenient, but it was necessary to avoid unpleasant consequences. 

Now that we've got sewage under control, the focus shifts to stormwater.  As the city grows, what's necessary to avoid those unpleasant consequences?  Or better, what do we need to do to leave a cleaner city and lakes to our children?

I think we've got good people in our Engineering Department, and they'll to the right thing if we send them a clear message--a message about our standards for the 21st century.

So Hillcrest-Upland neighbors, Sunset Village, and even the whole city needs to decide:
  1. Is the ravine just a stormwater channel and a low place to run sewage pipes?
  2. Is the ravine a sort of recreational greenway with places for children to play, adding natural values of shade, wildlife, and water sounds for residents with adjacent properties?
  3. Is it a wildlife refuge and corridor, where we hope to see foxes, racoons, great horned owls, and turkeys?
The City's "Option 1" for the greenway assumes the greenway is just a stormwater and sewer channel.  They didn't know we had something else in mind.  It was a problem of communication.  Perhaps too, we hadn't made up our minds.

I'm proposing that plans for the greenway have wider significance.  What we do to repair the greenway is going to set the standards and tone for other projects.  It could be a valuable pilot project, where the City could test new techniques for restoration, just as they have tested rain gardens.

What goes into the storm sewer--goes into the lakes.  How we treat our stormwater reflects how we care about our lakes.  Riprap (Option 2) is stone rubble.  Dumping rubble into the ravine is like dumping it into our lakes. 

Riprap is a biological desert.  Yes, it stops erosion.  Also, it pretty well stops wildlife.  Is that the future we want for our lakes?  

I hope instead that we begin to treat our streams and stormwater channels with more respect--so they can become living systems again--places that filter the rainwater, let it sink into the ground, and deliver it to the lake cleaner than it was when leaving your yard or sidewalk.

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