Milwaukee Wants to Turn Foreclosed Homes Into Part of Its Sewer System

When it rains, it pours. It pours down streets, into sewers, and often right into people's basements. What if we could flood the abandoned basements and spare the occupied ones? Milwaukee has a novel sewer solution that just might be a silver lining in the foreclosure crisis.

In Milwaukee, reports Jenny Jones for Civil Engineering, some of the worst flooding occurs in a north-central neighborhood that has also been hit hard in the economic downturn. The city has foreclosed on homes whose owners owe property taxes. Some of the houses are resold, but the worst ones are demolished. The basements of these demolished houses, however, could be repurposed as stormwater management facilities—a fancy way of saying temporary water tanks.

Milwaukee Wants to Turn Foreclosed Homes Into Part of Its Sewer System

Plan for a BaseTern. City of Milwaukee

Milwaukee recently released a feasibility study on what it calls "BaseTerns." These abandoned basements would essentially be turned into water-holding tanks to relieve pressure on the sewer system in a storm. Civil Engineering describes how it might work:

The walls of the test basement will be sprayed or lined with a waterproofing material to prevent the water from seeping through, while holes will be drilled into the floor so that some of the water can infiltrate the ground. A pipe attached to the basement's existing floor drain will allow the remainder of the water to flow slowly into the sewer system, while the water in the rain barrels will be used to irrigate the garden. A single BaseTern project is expected to cost between $34,000 and $79,000, depending on the basement conversion method used.

Milwaukee has embarked on a pilot project to convert one basement into a BaseTern. If it all goes according to plan, the basements of all those abandoned houses might have an important—if unglamorous—second life. [ASCE]

Top image: Flooding in Milwaukee in 2010. AP Photo/Morry Gash