Washington Highlands
Schoonmaker Creek
Hello neighbors, 
Our Creek Advocacy group led by Paul O'Keefe continues to move the issues surrounding Schoonmaker Creek forward with our elected officials. Please see the update below from the group. This information is also being shared with other surrounding neighborhood associations. We are greatly appreciative of the creek group's efforts. 
Your WHA Board of Directors
Schoonmaker Creek Project Update
As we all know parts of the creek are in disrepair. The root cause of the creek walls eroding is due to the overall design of the entire watershed, especially north of Lloyd. When the original creek north of Lloyd was buried by the City the underlying stormwater pipes were not large enough to mitigate flooding. The implication is that in larger storms the amount of stormwater overloads the system and the creek, as the only portion of the watershed that is an open channel floods. The culverts under the Upper Parkway and Washington Circle Bridges are too small for the water flow which causes greater backups. Where the waters exit the open channel back into the culvert at Milwaukee Avenue (and especially if the grate is blocked) at South Park becomes very backed up. And this is just a regular storm!
In the once in a 100-year storm (which seems to happen a lot more than every 100 years!) there is extensive flooding in the neighborhoods north of Lloyd and south of Milwaukee Avenue.
The City is very aware of the design problems with the stormwater design throughout the watershed. According to City Engineer, Bill Hurley, studies “have identified the pipes in the ground are too small to convey the flows we have” and “that pipe is too small and that is why we have flooding”1. The City and MMSD requested a special report on the Watershed and potential alternatives from SEWPRC (Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission). This was delivered in 2019 and outlined 16 alternatives. These alternatives range in complexity and costs; some address the 25-year floods and others 100-year floods. The City Public Works Department is currently reviewing these options and will be presenting a narrowed-down list of options to further study at the July 2022 meeting of the Community Affairs Committee. The City has stated that the chosen alternative will be designed to address the 100-year flood.
There are a number of alternatives that would entail the razing of houses. One that impacts the Highlands is to create an open pond, which we have nicknamed Lake Wauwatosa, in South Park and one house would need to be demolished. Other alternatives impact neighborhoods to the north that could impact up to 76 houses being demolished. The good news is that the Engineering Department stated at the April 26th Financial Affairs Committee meeting that staff will not be recommending the destruction of property to create retention ponds. This is good news for our neighborhoods. We will watch closely to ensure these options are officially taken off the alternative list at the July 2022 Community Affairs Meeting.
The Creek Committee submitted two proposals to request ARPA funding (the $24Million Federal funding to the City that was related to the pandemic). One was to address urgent issues on the creek, including the wall directly south of the Washington Boulevard bridge to protect the bridge foundation. The second was to kickstart the design process of the larger Watershed project. Unfortunately, neither project was selected by City staff for funding. The one positive is that the attention on the creek has increased during this process. Thanks to everyone that responded to the recent survey the City posted when it was discussing the ARPA funding. Addressing infrastructure issues with Schoonmaker Creek was the highest-rated issue. This has made it clear to the Common Council that this is an issue that residents want to be addressed.
So what’s next? James Moldenhauer, our District 1 Alderperson and Finance Affairs Committee Chair has asked for a detailed graphical outline of the process, and deadlines, the City will follow to put the first shovel in the ground. What we do know is that the Public Works Department will present its preferred alternatives to the Community Affairs Committee in July 2022. We expect further studying and costing of those proposals would follow before presenting again to the Finance Affairs Committee the financial implications of each option. We do know that this project will be the most expensive infrastructure project in the city’s history.
We will continue to push for a project that addresses the root cause of the major flooding and returns the creek back to its original state.
For any questions or comments please reach out to Paul O’Keeffe (6211 W Washington Blvd; paul@usafl.com, 414-460-4406) who is leading the WHA Creek Committee.