GRAEF Highlighted in League of Wisconsin Municipality Magazine


From Concrete Channel to Community Asset

Project History
Outdated solutions for flood mitigation
The Kinnickinnic River Watershed covers nearly 25 square miles, draining directly into Lake Michigan. It connects six Milwaukee County municipalities: Cudahy, Greenfield, Milwaukee, St. Francis, West Milwaukee, and West Allis. In its original state, the Kinnickinnic was predominantly forested and abundant with wildlife. As municipalities expanded outwards, the area quickly became urbanized, creating impervious surfaces, such as pavements, roofs, and other hard surfaces. This made it difficult for rain to naturally absorb back into the land, causing stormwater runoff to overwhelm the stream channels and increase the risk of dangerous flooding.

In the early 1960s, based on best practices at the time, the river was straightened and lined with concrete to convey water downstream as quickly as possible. Although the channelization moved water quickly as planned, it altered the locations of flooding downstream, creating safety, water quality, and additional flooding problems.


Planning for a brighter future
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD),
along with several government and nongovernment agencies
and organizations, is addressing the problem through the Kinnickinnic River Watershed Flood Management Plan.

This multiphase plan reduces the risk of flooding, improves water quality, and benefits communities through numerous improvements.

One of the many active Kinnickinnic River Watershed Flood Plan projects is the Pulaski Park Project. MMSD selected GRAEF, a multidiscipline, engineering, planning, and design firm, as one partner to work on the Pulaski Park Project.

“Rivers are dynamic systems, constantly trying to move and adjust. When planning for river projects, it is essential to find balance between allowing the river to naturally adjust and containing it so that it does not weaken urban infrastructure. We improve the sustainability and longevity of our projects when we incorporate natural functions into our designs instead of placing hard, engineered controls on these dynamic river systems,” said Patrick Elliott, Senior Project Manager, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Project Plan
GRAEF worked with MMSD to accomplish the following
major milestones in the Kinnickinnic River Pulaski Park project:

  • Remove the concrete channel and create a naturalized
    stream environment
  • Integrate the river with the park and enhance the park
  • Replace the pedestrian bridge in the park and widen the
    opening for flow beneath the Cleveland Avenue bridge