Uncovering the River Quaggy

I heard rumors about streams being uncovered here and there, but didn't have details for many.  Now I've found the story of the River Quaggy.  Read more about it in a delightful book: Rain Gardens by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden.

Sutcliffe Park is a small park located about 10 mi SE of London in the UK.  The River Quaggy runs through the park before it empties into the nearby River Thames.

After the nearby suburb of Lewisham suffered from severe flooding, conventional engineering solutions were tried, ending with the burial of the river in an underground, concrete culvert.   This led to the loss of natural habitat, as well as fish and wildlife.  There was just a flat expanse of soccer fields left after the burial.  Still, flooding remained a problem, because confining the stream to such a narrow passage had the effect of creating dam.

To solve the flooding, in 2004 the park was redeveloped and the stream opened to daylight once again.  A volume of soil equal to 35 Olympic-sized swimming pools was removed, creating a series of ponds.  Now the river flows through the park in a series of meanders exactly as it did over a century ago.   The surface of the park was lowered, creating a natural flood plain where floodwaters can collect during severe storms. 

"Instead of a ...uniform stretch of metropolitan grassland, there is now a rolling landscape with a range of natural habitats to encourage as much wildlife as possible--the river itself, a lake, ponds (with dipping platform and boardwalks) wildflower meadows (both wet meadows and dry meadows at higher levels), an outdoor classroom, reed beds and a variety of native trees.  At the same time, access for the public and for people with disabilities was increased.  The scheme has great local support, largely because of the increased wildlife....  Some of the gravelly areas by the river are very popular with children and some people think they have been made deliberately as large play areas, but in fact the children's enjoyment is a by-product of the habitat creation."  Photos and more here.

Other streams restored to daylight

Seoul, Korea: Peeling Back Pavement to Expose Watery Havens  Blog & pictures here.
   See the excellent video about the Korean river restoration (at above link)
   Read fascinating comments on the article here.
San Antonio River Walk  It's amazing!
Paris: As of 2004, the city was considering uncovering some sections of the River Bièvre.
Providence, RI
Charlottesville, VA (at the University of Virginia)
Portland, OR: Tanner Creek
Berkeley, CA: Strawberry Creek & Codornices Creek
Raleigh, NC: Rocky Branch
Charlotte, NC: Little Sugar River Creek

Other river restorations

Saw Mill River, Yonkers, NY  plans
The Los Angeles River, which has mostly been straightened and turned into a concrete lined ditch, is being restored in its upper reaches. People kayak on it from time to time.
Naugatuck River in Connecticut


Lake Mendota in Winter

Lake Mendota during a thaw in March.

Lake Mendota is beautiful in the winter.  Don't miss the chance for a weekend walk in the sun.  A good place to park is at Picnic Point. 

For comfort, check the wind speed first.  You can go out in almost any temperature, as long as there's no wind.

It's quite safe until sometime in March.  Take a little care near shore, or when crossing pressure ridges.  Very rarely, there can be a chance of slipping and falling at a pressure ridge, and there can be gaps in the ice there--but just use your eyes.

Click here to see a slide show of Lake Mendota in winter.  Move cursor off screen and click arrows bottom right to fill screen.


An urban explorer

This blog is about urban infrastructure... and nature... and where the two intersect.

In my research, I've stumbled across a lot of interesting stuff. Perhaps the most amazing urban explorer I've encountered is amateur photographer Timothy Vogel. Although he has another job with a 50-hour week, he still finds time to explore his city. Here's a photo taken during one of his explorations.

Underneath New York, by Timothy Vogel.  Click to enlarge.

In his own words: "What started as a side-project, photographing my urban exploration trips has taken on a life of its own. I think I've... become a picture-taking tourist in my own city, although not of everyday touristy things. Not quite street-photography, I describe my pictures as being city-detail oriented. The term 'urban fragment' more than often suits my pictures just fine.

My other goal is to visit places in NYC's 5 boroughs where people rarely venture, and bring back pictures seldom seen by anyone except the locals." 

I doubt if many of the locals have seen what Timothy sees.

Timothy Vogel's Flickr site.  Reproduced here under the creative commons: CC BY-NC 2.0

In Hartford, CN, urban explorers run the underground river in kayaks, wearing headlamps.


A green roof for your house?

Since roofs represent 40-50% of impermeable surfaces in urban areas, green roofs have a big role to play in reducing urban runoff.  They have other benefits as well--read on....

 The following is condensed from a blog by Amy Norquist.
Too much weight is currently put on the need for more "infrastructure," meaning more pipes, more engineering, more disruption, more trying to control the flow, especially when it combines with rain. (It is as futile a solution as holding back the waters of Lake Ponchartrain during a major hurricane.) These "end of pipe solutions" represent the traditional approach to solving a problem caused by too many people paving over too many acres.
So what can better solve the problem with our sewers? The most obvious -- and most affordable--solution is bringing vegetation back into the cities that paved over green space to get there.

Green roofs can dramatically reduce runoff and sewage overflows. Green roofs--roofs covered with living plants, which are, by the way, beautiful -- as opposed to ones made of tar or other impervious materials, absorb water and are a less expensive way to capture water than trying to control it through end-of-pipe ideas. Nature becomes a bigger player, acting as the engineer. Building owners benefit and so do municipalities who have to spend much less on controlling their storm water.
Diagram from Greensulate
Green roofs also can indirectly effect the entry of heavy metals, nitrate, diesel soot, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hydrocarbons and pesticides into local waters....

Green roofs last 20 to 75 years longer than conventional ones. And, for good measure, they improve air quality and provide habitat to endangered butterflies and bees, and arguably improve humans' experience of the world by providing more visually accessible green space.

Green roofs are not only the economically superior strategy but their additional benefits are huge: reducing Co2 and particulate matter, and flooding cities with beauty instead of contaminated storm water.

Looking even further -- and more globally -- down the road, scientists at Columbia University (NASA's Goddard Institute) have concluded that the combination of planting more street trees along with Green roofs looks like the best single mitigation strategy for the effects of climate change in urban areas.

Green roofs in Madison
  • City Engineering's Emil Street office has a small green roof
  • The new Microbial Sciences Building on Linden Dr.
*    *    *
More about Amy Norquist.
Read Amy Norquist's blog on the Huffington post.

Does stormwater breed mosquitoes?

Only stagnant water is a problem

Last summer, I saw a notice posted over the biggest pool at the east end of the greenway, announcing that the city had treated the pool for mosquitoes.  So, I wondered if our plan for a chain of rain gardens and pools in the ravine would create a mosquito problem.

As you read on, you'll discover that some kinds of mosquitoes do love stormwater, but only if it's stagnant for several weeks.  If the pool dries up in a week or two, no problem.  If the stream flows again, it flushes out the larvae, so again, no problem.  And the mosquito larvas can be killed by a larvacide, or by stocking the pools with minnows. 

Neighbors can watch to see if pools linger, and easily take action if they do.    In conclusion: the stream in our ravine is unlikely to present a mosquito problem.

Tracking mosquitoes for the sake of public health

The following is condensed version from an article on CALS News.  Culex is one species of mosquito found in Madison.

"...Unlike most mosquitoes, Culex prefers to deposit its eggs in the most stinking, fetid water imaginable. In fact, when they want to attract Culex females that are ready to lay, the scientists make a mix of chicken poop, brewer’s yeast and grass clippings, and then “brew it up on the back deck until it smells really awful,” laughs Paskewitz.

And where in Madison do such rank conditions exist? Mostly within stormwater ditches, say the researchers, although not all the time. When ditches are streaming with runoff from city streets, there’s no problem. But as soon as flows stop and the water becomes stagnant, they can become “superproducers” of Culex.

To control the mosquito’s numbers, Hausbeck’s department began applying a mosquito larvacide to the 12 most productive sites shortly after Irwin identified them. Similar to Bt – the natural, bacterial insecticide the city uses to combat gypsy moth – the larvacide is environmentally benign and highly specific to mosquitoes. Still, its use has raised concerns, the main one being the development of resistance, says Hausbeck.

“The more we use these larvacides, the more we have to worry about mosquitoes becoming tolerant and them becoming less effective,” he says.

That’s why the trio has launched an experiment this summer to see if supplementing the larvacide with an inexpensive native fish, the fathead minnow, can reduce Culex numbers even further. The idea is that if the minnows eat large numbers of larvae, the city could add larvacides less often or perhaps stop using them altogether.

In the meantime, Paskewitz and Irwin continue to monitor Madison’s overall community of adult mosquitoes, as well as those that target people. So far, the news is good. In human landing catch studies they’ve conducted during the prime mosquito-feeding hours of 5 and 10 p.m., the pair has bagged thousands of mosquitoes, but only a handful of Culex: just 13 last year, and about six the year before, says Paskewitz."

Written by Madeline Fisher on 9/3/2008 for CALS News

Exploring Lake Wingra in winter

On January 21, Gordon Heingartner and Jeff Durbin invited me to join them on a ramble around Lake Wingra.  They write a blog called Unseen Madison--apparently they felt the winter lake was sufficiently "unseen" to qualify.  The plan was to walk the entire circumference on the ice, and see what we could see.

We met at the new dam where Lake Wingra flows into Murphy Creek.  Just finished last fall, the dam has a pleasant design.  Some had hoped it would be designed to keep carp from sending reinforcements up the creek to Lake Wingra, where the carp have been doing battle with the Green tribe.  But carp control wan't included in the design.  Perhaps it can be retrofitted.

Dam between Wingra Creek and Lake Wingra. Photo by J. Durbin

We discussed how the final solution to the carp problem could be publishing a good recipe.  Maybe Martha Stewart could be enlisted.  After all, the carp were introduced by European settlers because carp were considered a delicacy.  But somewhere along the way, they lost the recipe.  Carp-a-thon, anyone?  I've always heard that people don't eat carp nowadays because of the many bones.  If you know how to take out the bones--and few people do--you're well on your way to a fine feed.

We set out counter clockwise, and soon came to the shoreline of Edgewood College, where a pathway, plus many nice boardwalks on the marsh, have been established.  Here we met Edgewood Professor Jim Lorman, who showed us the springs on college property.

Winter is a good time for observing springs, because the water comes out at 55 degrees F.  That warmth, plus water turbulence, keeps ice from forming--making the springs visible.

The largest spring in the Edgewood area is called Millennium Spring by Jim Lorman, because it was first noticed about the year 2000.   No one knows why it began then, so we tossed around some ideas.  A millennium software glitch?  The best idea seemed to be that construction of a building nearby had caused a rearrangement in the groundwater flow.

Millennium Spring, with Prof. Jim Lorman, right.

Many people think it's unsafe to walk on the lake in winter, probably because they see these patches of open water.   I'd say, just keep your eyes open.  There aren't any hidden springs you can't see.  You wouldn't walk in front of a speeding garbage truck--likewise, I don't recommend closing your eyes and walking into a spring.  It's pretty shallow where the springs occur, so you'd probably survive anyway.

The ice was plenty thick.  We found one hole where an ice fisher gave up before he had bored all the way through.  The hole was a foot or more deep--but the ice was thicker than that.

We found some beaver tracks in and around the board walks, plus a few trees they had been gnawing on.  Beaver are active during the winter.  Sometimes you can see their tracks on the ice, where they alternately run and slide on their bellies.  But most of the time, they swim under the ice, where they are safe from coyotes.

A sobering thought--here on Lake Wingra, the primeval struggle between predator and prey.   And just a quarter mile away at Michael's Frozen Custard, every day you can observe the primeval struggle between people and calories.

Edgewood Big Hole Spring was recently rediscovered and cleaned out.It was formerly a trout pond for Governor Cadwallader Washburn.

Along the shore, we saw many large and magnificent willow trees. They have gnarly burls where many small branches sprout from the trunk.

Dead willow with burl, "sandblasted" by snow.

Just E of Wingra park, another spring on private property.

Jeff investigates a stormwater outlet.  Controlling pollution and sediment from these outlets is a priority for Madisonians.

West of Wingra Park, we noticed a fine stand of tamarack trees.  In fall, they turn "smoky gold,"  Now, a multitude of seeds gave them a color of deep rust.

Nearing the west end of the lake, we found the narrow creek where spring water from Duck Pond flows into the lake.

Past Duck Creek, we headed west across a broad marshland towards the Nakoma golf course.  It was surprising to find such a wilderness in the midst of a city.  There were coyote tracks everywhere.  The snow here was quite deep, so walking was difficult.

This trampled area in the marsh grass was most likely a place where a coyote spent the night.

At the NE corner of the lake, we found open water at the mouth of a short creek that leads to Big Spring.

Our intrepid explorers investigate a mysterious stain.

On the south shore, Jeff and Gordon found a mysterious stain on the ice, and subjected it to the "nose test."  Beer?  Coffee?  A call of nature?  Finally, Gordon detected a strong whiff of coffee.  Case solved.

We ended back at the dam, after trekking over 3.5 miles, in 5 hours.  I was exhausted.
*    *    *

If you decide to follow our intrepid lead, I recommend:

  • Go in pairs, for safety--mostly so you can discourage your partner from testing all the coffee stains.
  • Dress very warmly, especially on the feet. Take a ski pole to test the ice and keep your balance.
  • Bring a sandwich and some hot cocoa.
  • In March, when the thaw begins, the first few feet along the shore melt first. So be careful near the shore (but it's very shallow there).
  • It's best to wait several days after a heavy snowfall. That's because the snow weighs down the ice, causing water to well up over the ice, making slush. After several days, the slush freezes.
See David's slide show here. Use the full screen mode (arrows on left) and move your cursor off-screen.
See Jeff Durbin's slide show here.

Goodbye carp

"I do have a serious recipe for carp. I can mine. I filet the carp, cut the filets into two inch chunks, bone and all ,and put into a pint canning jar with a tablespoon of cooking oil and a tablespoon of salt. Put the top on the jar and pressure cook for 90 minutes at 110 pounds. Take out and cool and let the jars seal. The bones will be soft just like in canned salmon. I make fish patties with the meat, chopped onion and bell pepper and crushed saltines. When pan fried they are almost as good as salmon croquettes. "  Source.

Plenty more recipes here.  Find out about bowhunting for carp here.


From snowbank to sea

One warm day in March, years ago, my son Chris and I were walking in Forest Hills cemetery.   Everywhere, snow banks were melting into rivulets, coursing down the asphalt.

Chris asked: "Daddy--Where does the water go?"

As I explained about the water running into the sewer, then into the lake, then into the Mississippi River, suddenly a thought struck: "Why not actually show him where it goes?  Why not?" 

So on spring vacation a few weeks later, we set out, planning to take the small highways always along the rivers, till we reached the Gulf of Mexico.  We stopped here and there.  In southern Illinois, Chris learned "there's no such thing as clean coal."

Abandoned strip mine for coal in southern Illinois.

Chris makes a new friend in the rain.

We visited a ghost town along the Mississippi, a place that had been abandoned when the river changed course and left a river town high and dry.  I was amazed to run into some Wisconsin beekeepers there--this was the winter home for their bees.

On a lonely road along the Mississippi flood plain, we found a box turtle crossing the road.

Chris admonished the turtle as he helped it to the side of the road: "Don't you know you could get hurt?"

Finally, we reached New Orleans, where Chris sat in a park, munching an apple.

Actually reaching the Gulf of Mexico proved a bit more of a challenge than I had imagined.  Because if you try to drive along the river, the road ends miles before you reach the Gulf.  We tried to hitch a ride on a mail boat headed to Pilot Town, beyond the road.  But they were full.  Later, I was able to hitch a ride on a private plane, that flew out an over the last spot of marshy land.

On our way back, we didn't feel obliged to follow the river, so we stopped at the Natchez Trace National Park.

A "living history" volunteer offers Chris a wild strawberry at the Natchez Trace.

I'm not sure who learned more--Chris or myself.  But it was a good chance for bonding, both father and son, and people with the landscape.  It was one chapter in my growing appreciation for our natural waterways.

Having seen the unbroken lifeline of waterways, from snow bank to the Gulf, it's not so strange to start thinking about the "chain" of runoff.   I'm talking about each step in the journey of a water drop, from where it falls on your roof, to... wherever it goes.

That's why it's natural for me to suggest a chain of many rain gardens in our greenway--not just ONE rain garden.


Uncover the stream--create a natural laboratory

When the greenway controversy first arose, I never thought it would be possible to uncover the stream near Owen Drive--the part that was buried several years ago.

But now in their "Action Agenda,"  Friends of the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway have proposed to do just that.  After consulting with many residents near the greenway, and carefully considering three options from the City, neighbors decided the stream at the east end of the greenway should be uncovered.  "Daylighted," as they say.   Here's why I think it's a good idea.

Taking leadership

We're on the brink of a revolution in how cities relate to nature.  It's going to take a generation, but we can build "green infrastructure" that makes cities more pleasant and livable.  To get there, it's going to take a lot of experimentation.  And our greenway can be a laboratory for finding the right techniques.

In natural landscapes, a large fraction of the stormwater sinks into the ground, where it's essential for drinking water, and for keeping our lakes and streams healthy.  With the old-fashioned "grey infrastructure," pipes take that stormwater and dump it into the lakes.  But this creates other problems--like dirty lakes, higher costs for drinking water, and high cost for buried pipes that eventually must fail.  For these reasons, we need to return to the idea of "land as sponge."

That's a tall order.  Even if every house in the city has a rain garden by the downspout, that barely scratches the surface.  We need rain gardens everywhere--especially for streets and parking lots.  Not just rain gardens, but all manner of tricks for preventing runoff--solutions like green roofs and porous pavement.

This may seem like some tree hugger's dream--way too radical.   That's what I thought, until I heard about Philadelphia's plan to spend 1.6 billion dollars, transforming the city in the next 20 years.   But the benefits will be considerable.  Green infrastructure is going to be a lot more aesthetic. 

That's why I chose a stormwater pond for my banner photo (below).  

Stormwater can be beautiful.  Retention pond near West Towne.

Rain gardens in the greenway

So, if we need a multitude of rain gardens, why not start in the greenway?

Nice idea, but it's not that easy.  In an urban stream or stormwater channel, you see three different kinds of flow during a year. 
  • You have cloudbursts or spring runoff, when there's a big, destructive flood.  The banks get eroded, and any rain garden in the channel could easily be destroyed.
  • Next, there's the normal rain.  The stream runs like a normal stream.  Lots of nice rushing sounds.  A day after the rain stops, there's just a trickle, with some pools for wildlife.  All those pools serve as rain gardens.  Since there are scores of normal rains for every flood, the rain gardens are important.
  • During a dry spell, the stream completely dries up.  Vegetation along the banks dies, making it more vulnerable to erosion in the next flooding cycle.

Cherokee creek, near Thoreau School, after cloudburst.

To return the greenway to health, we have to handle the floods, and keep the plants healthy during dry spells.

Who said life was easy?  We flew to the moon.  We built planes invisible to radar.  We can figure out how to make natural-looking stormwater channels that work--and look good, and support wildlife.  It just takes some research.

Our proposal--two pathways for the water

At the east end of the greenway, where the stream is buried, I propose we keep the old stormwater pipe, and also build a chain of connected rain gardens beside it.*  We build a side pipe at the far east end of the greenway that directs modest flows into the chain of rain garden, but switches big floods through the existing pipe.

In other words, the stream is uncovered in the sense that low flows run throught the chain of open rain gardens, to the north of the existing pipe.  But the existing pipe remains buried, and carries (for several years) the overflow floodwaters.  If the rain garden route proves robust enough, then ALL the flow (including floods) could be directed into the rain gardens. (details at end).

In the series of rain gardens next to the pipe, we can experiment with different plants and different linings to the bottom.  Once we find several good designs, with vigorous plant growth, we can then switch the flow so floods go through the rain gardens.  Next, refine the designs until we have one that can withstand a full flood.  

At the same time, for the rest of the ravine downstream--the middle and western parts--we can experiment with various designs, including, I hope, many pools or rain gardens.   If the upper (eastern) rain gardens demonstrate the best design and plantings, the lower pools might later be changed to that best design.

And what about the dry spells?  Rain barrels, connected to soaker hoses, can keep the plants healty and better able to resist the next flood.  Imagine all those lovely woodland plants--ferns and flowers.  Finally for the access required to maintain the hoses, rain gardens, and to do some weeding, there should some reinforced pathways and steps.

Lean and mean

The problem with riprap (as usually practiced) is that it's over design  The huge piles of rubble discourage plant growth and wildlife, and have all the charm of a strip mine.

Grotesque over design: Riprap in Pheasant Branch Conservancy

We don't build airliners with steel and concrete.   Sure, they'd be sturdy--the geese would just bounce off of them.  But they'd never get off the ground.  In the modern world, "lean and mean" makes for better performance.  That's what our greenway needs.  Just enough reinforcement and smart design to withstand the floods--followed up with sufficient maintenance to keep it ready for next year's flood.

And our greenway is a good place to figure out--for the whole city--what that smart design entails.
*    *    *
* The series of rain gardens at the eastern end should follow the old streambed, in a natural curve--not just parallel to the buried pipe.  These rain gardens have to be lower than the pipe, so their water won't just seep back into the pipe.

Madison deserves credit for it's excellent research on rain gardens.

Details of rain gardens at east end of greenway

Some excavation is required north of the existing stormwater pipe, to create a channel for the chain of rain gardens.  But excavation is needed anyway, to repair the sanitary sewer, which now crosses under the stormwater pipe. 

The "switch," to direct stormwater from the pipe into the rain gardens, does not have to be actively controlled.  It is just built so the water automatically does what we want it to do.   For example, if you burrowed into the stormwater pipe near owen drive, and inserted a pipe 1 foot in diameter, connecting with the bottom of the existing stormwater pipe, then an amount of water that could flow through the 1' side pipe would always go into the rain gardens.  If a flood exceeded the capacity of that 1' pipe, then the excess floodwaters would go down the existing stormwater pipe, bypassing the rain gardens, and sparing them from damage.

Why don't we just leave the stormwater pipe as it is, and experiment with rain gardens further downstream?

Because the stormwater pipe allows us to keep floodwaters out of the rain gardens.  It's not going to be easy to design rain gardens that won't be destroyed by a flood.  This gives us more freedom to experiment with or without floodwaters.  In addition, there's much more room at the east end of the greenway, the slope is more gradual, and there is less water volume here.  The rain gardens would be more visible and enhance that end of the greenway.

Won't the property to the North, on Owen Drive, be threatened again by floods? 

No, because at first, the existing pipe will handle the bulk of the floodwaters.  If, later, floodwaters are directed into the rain gardens, this change can be reversed if problems occur.   The rain gardens will be more robust that the uncontrolled stream used to be.

In the city's Option 1, Lisa Coleman proposed one or more rain gardens near the stormwater pipe.  How do the rain gardens proposed here differ?
  1. I'm proposing a chain of connected rain gardens that connect to the stream channel downstream, almost like a natural stream.  Lisa was proposing one or two isolated rain gardens.
  2. In my proposal, more water goes into the rain gardens.  The side pipe is larger.  The rain gardens have more capacity, and so will require some reinforcement.
  3. The gardens in my proposal are experimental, and may be modified.  The water flow can be modified.
  4. I'm proposing a variety of approaches to channel protection downstream, for experimental purposes.
There may be a few "bugs" remaining in this concept.   So far, it's a concept, with the details to be refined.  If you see a problem, please let me know.


Quietly waiting for a decision...

Three trees, in the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway, wait for a decision on their fate.  Depending on which plan is adopted for sewer and erosion problem, about 65 trees, more or less, will be destroyed.  Neighbors are concerned that still more trees will die from damage during construction.

Gentle curves and animal tracks in the winter ravine.

 "What?  Me worry?"
Some snowmen had a tough time with the thaw a few weeks ago.


Thinking about "naturscaping" our ravine

Your basic city landscaping of a stormwater project--
between SW Bikeway and Glenway golf course

Here's a list of replacement trees and bushes for the Hillcrest-Upland greenway that Tim Kessenich and Mary Norton compiled.

The canopy trees and understory bushes/small trees were selected with the following criteria in mind: (1) native to this area, (2) grow well in a woods (shady) environment, and (3) most of them produce acorns or berries which attract birds and small mammals.

  • black cherry
  • American hackberry
  • American basswood (NOT little leaf linden)
  • hickory - shagbark and yellow bud
  • black walnut
  • bur oak
  • red oak
  • northern white cedar/ arbor vitae - would be excellent along Midvale (which has more sun) as a visual and noise barrier 
  • juneberry (Amelanchier Sp.)
  • elderberry (attracts 43 species of birds)
  • viburnums such as nannyberry and highbush cranberry
  • witch hazel
  • choke cherry
  • gray dogwood
  • pagoda dogwood
  • in the few sunny locations (Midvale, Owen Drive) staghorn sumac and red-osier dogwood
How many of each species should be ordered will depend partly on how many trees of each species are lost and on the landscaping company's recommendations.

(We'll need a landscaping company which specializes in woods settings.)

Thanks to Mary and Tim for their good work!


...The next step.  Any volunteers to donate extra woodland plants from your garden?  Several people have already volunteered ostrich ferns.

Planning and planting the woodland ground cover can be a fun event for the community.

Some soaker hoses connected to rain barrels will be needed to sustain woodland plants during dry spells.

The kind of plants that grow in ravines--
a secret location in the Baraboo Hills (Click on photo to enlarge)


Neighbors have spoken--they want the stream to look as natural as possible (see previous post).  They want pools, rain gardens, maybe dams, natural field stones, and little or no ugly piles of riprap rubble.

A more natural channel will provide the opportunity for streamside vegetation--vegetation that can protect the banks and channel from erosion.

We need to research plants that might be suitable.  You often find willows in a sunny streamside location, but this will be shady.  Our ravine can test plantings to be used in other "green" stormwater projects.

Any ideas?  Please let me know--or post a reply below.

Riprap of natural boulders, corner of Cherokee and Yuma Drives.

Planting woodland plants to stabilize the ravine
during the "Weed Feed" in Glenwood Childrens Park.


Statement from Friends of Hillcrest Upland Greenway

The following "statement" submitted by David Newby is based on widespread discussions with neighbors living near the ravine, and incorporates their views.

The association was organized to retain the wild, tree-filled greenway.

THE PROBLEM: We have been given little alternative but to accept the complete replacement of the main sanitary sewer and the sewer laterals along this rustic valley. (Sewer branches will not be replaced or new ones built – thank you.)

But many issues now remain. Once Engineering’s bulldozers pull out of the valley, we will be left with
  • a raw gash in the valley and in the hillsides
  • a storm water channel of uncertain route, quality and appearance
  • erosion control mechanisms which are not yet acceptably defined
  • bare landscape where trees of significant size once grew
Who will be responsible for restoring the site to its rustic beauty, how will that be done, how will it be funded, and what is the time frame? We seek acceptable city response to the issues raised in this document, and to the proposals which we present here.

 THE PERSPECTIVE: while we currently own the homes here, we actually are temporary residents along the greenway. It is the trees and water and wildlife that are the permanent residents and we want to leave this area wild and tree-filled, with the sound and sight of flowing water, when we leave.

THE OBJECTIVE: restoration of the rustic nature of the valley/greenway, following the damage to the valley from the open-cut replacement of the sanitary sewer and from the construction of a stable storm water channel.

Friends of the Valley Facebook group is at “Friends of Hillcrest Upland Greenway”

*    *    *



** daylight the storm water at the east end of the valley
and create structures to contain and control the water

The east end of the valley is going to be dug up once again, this time to replace the sewer pipe and laterals. Reconsider the piping of the storm water up there, and this time, do it right.

This is the area of the greenway where there is a large amount of city property, property whose soil characteristics are such that water can seep into that soil instead of racing across bedrock.

Use that property to create retention ponds, dams, and rain gardens to permit the re-absorption of the water into the ground. This will reduce the volume of water coming down the valley, slow its flow, and mitigate the destruction caused to the hillsides by the fast-flowing large volumes of water.

One option concerning the east end of the valley is to use it as a test zone for storm water management/green infrastructure techniques, such as those being used in Philadelphia. (Details about using the east end of the valley as a green infrastructure test site can be found at David Thompson’s website.)

** define the nature and course of the storm water channel

Will it simply be a chute, like a water slide in Wisconsin Dells? Will it have levels for small waterfalls, wide spaces where pools can form, curves reflecting the curving nature of the valley itself?

** vary the width of the storm water channel

The stream bed does not have to be uniformly wide. There is significant change in the volume and velocity of the water once the principal stream is joined by the water flowing down from the streets through the storm water branch drain between 4338 and 4334 Upland Drive.

Reduce the planned storm water channel width from Owen to the entrance of the storm water branch at 4334/4338 Upland, armor with natural boulders the location where the branch water meets the main channel, and begin the currently-planned wide stream bed where the storm water branch enters the main stream.

** natural boulders should be installed at the “corners” of the stream, where the storm water changes course, and along especially degraded hillside areas, to armor these areas that are especially prone to erosion

** select field stones for the riprap

The quality and nature of the riprap needs to be specifically identified, with photos presented of what we can expect. This is not an isolated water channel far from public view, it is our backyards. (The photo shown us at the community meeting of the riprap-filled channel along the southwest bike path was especially alarming.)

** the placement of the riprap needs to be defined, as does the process by which the riprap will be installed. Will the riprap be installed in some fashion or simply be dumped in piles along the water route?

** conform to a City of Madison long-range plan for greener stormwater management if during the planning for and the process of ravine reconstruction, the City enacts such a plan.


Provide additional information on how the current Engineering plans under option #2 will stabilize the hillsides, especially those which are most fragile, and curb the erosion along the valley. The erosion problems differ along the valley’s length – how will one solution solve the variety of erosion problems? Is filling the valley with riprap expected to be the sole erosion control mechanism?

In addition to erosion in city-owned property, there are erosion problems on private property and in the easements along the valley and some of those problems are major. Work with individual property owners to remediate the erosion problems on their property which have been caused by the long-neglected and significant erosion in the public-owned and in the easement properties.


Make special efforts to safeguard major trees at the edge of the construction zone. Crushed and severed roots will kill these trees as certainly as will a chainsaw. Identify these trees, e.g. with a particular color ribbon, and instruct contractors to work carefully in their vicinity.

It appears that there are several other major trees which may be left standing when this is all over, trees which currently are at risk because of exposed roots and neglect. We ask that you attempt to save them, by providing appropriate soil (not just crushed gravel and clay) and nutrients needed to help them survive.


Replace the trees. A number of the trees to be cut down are magnificent, 50 to 70 years old, especially the dense stand at the west end of the valley. Include in the bid a tree replacement contract. It should include a variety of trees of significant size, and they should be placed throughout the valley. We do not want to wake up some day after the bulldozers leave with two burlap-balled trees in our driveways and a note that says “Go to it, folks!” (Mary Norton is developing a list of site-appropriate trees, trees that will do well in the ravine, and will provide it to the city.)


Our valley will need landscaping, remediation and habitat restoration. Include in the bid a landscape plan which restores the area as much as possible to its previous condition, and includes appropriate ground cover to filter storm water as it travels into the storm water channel.


** use a single-lane construction path to do the work

Do not create a separate construction road parallel to the sanitary and storm water work path.

This will minimize construction damage to private property (easements) adjacent to city property

** define the construction path in a highly visible way

Construct a snow fence? Install a rope fence? Install stakes along the valley and we’ll connect them with ribbon or rope?

** use a non-traditional bid procedure for the project, one which specifies the use of the smallest, least intrusive equipment, and imposes significant penalties, penalties sufficient to deter contractor “mistakes” or “collateral damage”

** include in the bid a requirement that the contractor restore the area as much as possible to its previous condition, and that the contractor provide thorough clean-up in the areas in which they worked
ssure careful and attentive city supervision of contractors

** assure careful and attentive city supervision of contractors

Recognize that this is a unique project in a narrow space between long-established homes with back-yards contiguous to city property.

** assure careful and attentive city supervision of contractors

Monitor contract work to assure the work is done only within contract parameters, trees are protected from “accidental” damage, and intrusion on and damage to private property does not happen.



Native Plants Available at Greatly Reduced Prices

Everyone seems to be putting in rain gardens these days. And now, the Plant Dane! Cost-Share Program provides native plants to fill those rain gardens for less than half of retail prices.

Rain gardens are an attractive way to reduce lawn maintenance time and costs, beautify your yard and help your lakes, rivers and streams all at the same time. Go to www.myfairlakes.com for an online application. A free rain garden workshop will be offered on March 6 to participants. Orders may be placed through May 15th, 2010. Plants will be delivered on June 26th.

Now in its 6th year, the Plant Dane! cost-share program provides homeowners, schools and nonprofit organizations with native plants, seeds and information to establish rain gardens and restore prairies through a gift from the Graham-Martin Foundation. The Plant Dane! Program has provided tens of thousands of plants, resulting in hundreds acres being planted with native species throughout Dane County. Plan your rain garden today!
From a press release by Marcia Hartwig, January 12, 2010.  Contact: Marcia, MAMSWaP Storm Water Education Coordinator, 608-224-3746, hartwig@co.dane.wi.us

I'm tickled pink with my native plant garden.  No mowing, no raking!!

It's located in the shade between two houses, where I couldn't grow any grass.  The plants are all "volunteers" or extras donated by neighbors.  The only expense was soaker hoses, to ensure plants do well in dry years.  You can feed the soaker hoses from rain barrels.


Have fun while you work for the environment

Conservation Lobby Day--Jan. 26, 2010

"Each year citizens from across Wisconsin descend on the Capitol to share their conservation values with their Legislators. Since the first Conservation Lobby Day in 2005, it has grown from just 100 citizens to more than 600!"

Citizen lobbyists will focus on these four issues:

1.Preserve Groundwater: Wisconsin’s Buried Treasure: Manage Wisconsin’s groundwater resources to preserve drinking water supplies, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

2.Stop Global Warming. Address the threats of global warming in Wisconsin through clean, renewable energy jobs and energy conservation.

3.Restore Conservation Integrity: Return Wisconsin to an Independent DNR Secretary and timely appointments of Natural Resources Board members

4.Protect Wisconsin’s Drinking Water: Protect Wisconsin’s drinking water supplies by making sure we safely spread agricultural, municipal, and industrial waste.

Activities last all day, with free lunch included.  It's topped off with a wild-game feed at the Inn on the Park.  To find out more, click here.  Registration Ends Tuesday, January 19th!

Green infrastructure--the quiet revolution

When I heard last week about the plans to turn Philadelphia green, they mentioned sod roofs on parking ramps.  Sod roofs--that was something I hadn't heard about.  Then yesterday while in Minneapolis, I heard on the radio about the green roof on the Target Center, a huge arena.  When I "googled" the Target Center, I was amazed at how far the green revolution has already advanced in some cities. 

Today, environmental news focuses on climate change and the energy crisis.  The term "green" seems most associated with solar cells or electric cars.  Green infrastructure--the more rational way of dealing with storm water, water quality, and drinking water, hasn't received as much attention from the media.

Yet green infrastructure is more likely to actually make our cities and neighborhoods livable.  The quality of lakes and streams for recreation will be improved, while our surroundings will be greener, cooler, and more inviting.  Green infrastructure will save money for taxpayers in the long run.

In Madison, we're barely getting started on rain gardens.  But rain gardens are just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to green infrastructure.  Madison is still in the "pavement age."

Of course we've got to keep working on climate and energy issues.  But as we rebuild and expand our urban areas--GO GREEN.  The payoff will be visible right away.

Minneapolis shows "green" leadership

A 2.5 acre green roof—the largest green roof in Minnesota—will reduce the heat island effect downtown and prevent one million gallons of storm water drainage into the Mississippi

Target Center's green roof. Source, and more photos.

September 15, 2009 (MINNEAPOLIS)—

The City of Minneapolis celebrated the greening of the Target Center roof at a completion celebration today on top of the arena. The roof is the largest green roof in Minnesota and, at the time of design, the fifth largest green roof in the United States. The Target Center is also the first arena in North America to install a green roof.

“We lead best by example,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, “and building one of the nation’s largest green roofs will allow us to ask others to do the same.”

“With the redesign of the Target Center roof, Minneapolis has again proven that sustainability and economic progress can go hand in hand,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. “Green initiatives such as this will not only improve the environment for city residents, but continue to cast Minneapolis as a leader when it comes to green industry.”

Benefits of the Green Roof reen roofs provide ecological benefits by reducing the negative effects of hard sufaces, like traditional roofs, on stormwater quality, volume, rate, and temperature on the receiving waterbody, in this case, the Mississippi River. It is estimated the green roof will capture one million gallons of stormwater annually, preventing drainage into the Mississippi River.

The green roof will also help in mitigating the heat island effect in downtown Minneapolis by reducing the roof’s temperature by as much as 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are opportunities, under public contract, to provide jobs for Minneapolis residents; 75% of the workers who worked on the installation of the roof were Minneapolis residents. Twenty of the workers were graduates of training programs at Summit Academy OIC.

Construction of the Vegetated Roof

Pre-grown mats of sedum plants create the base of the green roof system. Mats were laid on a state-of-the-art waterproofing membrane which includes a leak detection system called Electro Field Vector Mapping (EFVM). The membrane will help withstand constant dampness, high alkalinity, and exposure to plant roots, fungi, and bacterial organisms as well as varying hydrostatic pressures.

The green roof features a 1.75” growing zone in the center of the main arena roof structure and a deeper 2.5” growing zone around the perimeter where the structural capacity is greater to maximize storm water retention and plant vigor. The roof uses the pre-grown mats as the base of the green roof system and contains a variety of Sedums and Minnesota prairie plants, including Columbine, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Wild Strawberry, Dotted Blazing-Star, and Lupine. It includes lupines to target the Karner Blue Butterfly, a federally listed endangered butterfly that needs lupines to survive.

Prairie seed was also used to increase long-term resilience of the green roof. More than 11 miles of sustainable, water-efficient irrigation lines were installed and 14,000 cement  pavers for firebreaks and roof protection laid.

Minneapolis as an Environmentally-Friendly City

Minneapolis is recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the country. Target Center’s green roof is just one of many examples of how City government has led by example and taken advantage of the benefits of being green.

City Hall is also home to a green roof, and several Public Works and Fire Department facilities use solar arrays to help generate power. The City has also adopted a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards, which require new or significantly renovated City facilities to meet some of the highest standards for sustainability in their planning, design, construction and commissioning.

A new ordinance limits vehicle idling in the city to reduce emissions, and Minneapolis is the first U.S. city to require higher fuel efficiency for taxis. The City’s innovative stormwater utility program has dramatically increased the use of rain gardens and other effective practices to protect our lakes from stormwater runoff. 

Minneapolis has also created a unique program to provide microgrants to community organizations to  upport their efforts to fight climate change.

Since Minneapolis’ sustainability initiative was launched in 2003, City leaders have developed a series of 25 indicators, including things like air quality, bike paths, green jobs, and tree cover. Each indicator includes specific numeric targets, which serve as goals for Minneapolis to reach in the coming years. To learn more about Minneapolis’ sustainability efforts, visit www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/sustainability.

Reprinted from a press release.

Click here to see how other cities are going green.
Click here for an informative slide show on green roofs.
Little did I know, there's a whole green roof industry.

Buried stream pipes fail in West Allis

Honey Creek in West Allis in the 1960s, before burial.
Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District photo.

Expensive failure of a stream burial

In the mid-1960s, over two miles of Honey Creek in West Allis near Milwaukee were buried in pipes.  In a stretch where the creek flows under the racetrack at State Fair Park, its flow is divided between four pipes of corrugated steel, bolted together.  Why the 9x13 foot pipes were made of corrugated steel, rather than more permanent concrete, was not clear.

"Water from the creek has been leaking out cracks in the bottoms of the aging pipes, eroding soil around them, said David Fowler, MMSD senior project manager.  Soil above the pipes drops down, filling voids but causing depressions on the surface, he said."

If the pipes fail, large sinkholes could form in the auto race track, making it unusable and complicating repair of the creek.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has recommended spending $212,000 to repair just one 50-foot section of the four pipes under the race track.

The lessons from Honey Creek

As they say, "nature always bats last."  Sooner or later, every creek burial is going to fail, whether in 100 years or 200.  Because everything is buried, the first signs of failure are missed, and the costs of repair to underground structures can be very high.

In Madison, sinkholes are appearing over the buried creek in Glenwood Children's Park.

While burying a stream is often sold to the public as a cheap and permanent solution to stormwater problems, we see in West Allis how burial just defers the big expense to the next generation.  By that time, something like the race track has been built over the stream, and now the problem is a lot more complicated.

Some communities are now experimenting with uncovering buried streams, while others are undertaking comprehensive programs to deal with rain where it hits the ground.

Source of this story, and thanks to Kathleen McElroy for the alert.
Map of the stream.


Call for support for "green infrastructure"

The article I'm reprinting below is the best argument I've yet seen for "green" methods for handling stormwater.

Urge your representative to co-sponsor the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act

"Stormwater runoff is a growing threat to water quality across the United States, carrying untreated pollution into our rivers and lakes. As urban development increases, we have less forest and grassland available to filter our water and replenish our aquifers -- and more impervious surfaces like roads, roofs and parking lots sending polluted rainfall into our waterways. This polluted runoff costs Americans hundreds of millions of dollars each year in increased drinking water treatment costs, decreased tourism revenue and loss of aquatic habitat.

A proven method that can help address this challenge is "green infrastructure," which uses natural systems like trees, green roofs and rain gardens to put rain water back into the ground where it falls. Unlike traditional water management methods like sewers and tunnels that dump untreated, polluted stormwater far away where no one can use it, green infrastructure provides communities with a source of abundant, clean water.

Green infrastructure also makes sense economically because it decreases the costs of building expensive hard infrastructure, increases property values and creates thousands of green jobs. And unlike sewers and tunnels, green infrastructure offers wide-ranging environmental and social benefits beyond just reducing polluted runoff. It improves air quality, lessens the urban "heat island" effect and provides better urban aesthetics. Studies show that green infrastructure also improves people's health, reduces crime and saves energy used to heat and cool buildings.

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives that would make green infrastructure a priority by funding research into green infrastructure techniques as well as communities undertaking green infrastructure projects. The bill also would instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to create a new green infrastructure program.

What to do

Send a message urging your representative to co-sponsor the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act (H.R. 4202)."
Copied from an activist alert from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
See news here about Philadelphia's green infrastructure plan.


Powerful new tool for concerned citizens

A few days ago, I was out skiing on the Odana golf course at dusk, when an amazing sight caught my eye--coke machines, all lit up.  There were two of them out there, lonely and deserted, but still ready for action.  It's the second year I've noticed the machines turned on during the winter.  As we struggle with global warming, such waste boggles the mind.

I wondered who I could report this problem to, but quickly became discouraged as I imagined working my way through robot telephone menus, then finally speaking with a bored employe who thought I was nuts.

Then I read about a new tool to resolve this and similar problems:

"See Click Fix"

SeeClickFix.com is "a local advocacy Web site that lets users write about issues to encourage communication between residents and local government. SeeClickFix users post a complaint about problems that occur within a set of boundaries on a Google Map, like graffiti at a bus stop or potholes on a busy street, and the site communicates the problem to the appropriate government agency and marks the problem on the map.

Users can comment on the issue or label it resolved. Government agencies can post on the site to respond to residents, and journalists can use the site to communicate with readers and see which issues are most pressing to people.

Ben Berkowitz, the chief executive of SeeClickFix, said the tool went beyond government: 'Anyone can be held accountable: a business, nonprofit, even a private citizen.'"  Read more.

Fixing environmental problems

While the above example mentions problems like potholes in streets, we can use the site for environmental problems like the following:
  • Waste--parking lots that keep lights on all day
  • Stormwater issues--large parking lots in the neighborhood that dump stormwater onto streets, rather than into a rain garden
  • Identifying other spots for public rain gardens
  • Erosion in parks
  • Construction sites not complying with erosion laws
  • Chemical leaks and spills
  • Places where litter accumulates
So go to SeeClickFix.com, and start solving problems in your neighborhood!

Here's an example of problems reported in another city.

Since the tool is new, not much is happening yet on SeeClickFix in Madison.  The Mayor's office has set up a "watch area."   Good for Mayor Dave!

How to get started with SeeClickFix

You do not need an account on SeeClickFix--but you can easily start one if you already have a Facebook account. The site does have Pro accounts for businesses that require a fee, but citizens do not have to pay a membership fee.
  1. Citizens start here.
  2. Under "citizens get started," type in your city, neighborhood, or zip. Experiment with the map or lists of neighborhoods till you find the area you want to work within. I'd recommend your city, since the site is new.
  3. Check out to see what problems your neighbors have reported. But probably there won't be any, since SeeClickFix is new.
  4. Next, report your first problem. Click on the tab "report an issue."
  5. Indicate where your issue is. You can type in an address, or you can use the map to drag the symbol over the right location. Use the arrows to move the map till it covers your area. When done, click "go to step 2."
  6. State the problem. First enter something short and clear in the "summary" blank. This will be the name of your problem, so make it short, clear, and descriptive. If more details are needed, you can add them in the space below.
  7. Next, it's highly recommended to add a photo.
  8. Add your e-mail address in the blank. It will not be shared with the public.
  9. When you are done entering, click on "report your issue."
  10. If your report has been entered into the "Madson Mayor's Office" watch area, then your report will be emailed direct to the mayor's office.   I made the first two reports, so don't expect any action right away--because probably no one there is expecting reports yet.  Together we have get this process going.
  11. After you click on "report your issue," wait for a bit while your photo and report are uploaded.  Next, you will see some suggestions above for what to do next.  For example, you can email your report to your facebook friends, or you can even print a ready-made flier to slip under your neighbor's door.
Next, make some attempts to solve the issue yourself, and post what you are doing on the comments below the posting of your problem. You need to set an example that this system works, and that problems get fixed.

Think of SeeClickFix as a public bulletin board where problems are aired and people work together to solve them.

It's a great new tool for citizens--but if no one picks up the tool, no work gets done..