Within a two-hour period Tuesday night, 1 to 2 inches of rain fell on Madison streets. When storm sewers could no longer handle the volume, streets began to flood.
Eventually when that water receded it flowed through the storm sewers and into nearby lakes. The problem is that more than just the water made the journey.
“Everything that lands on those streets gets carried straight to the lakes. There’s no stop between here and there. There’s no filtration system,” said Elizabeth Katt-Reinders, policy and communications director for Clean Lakes Alliance.
The evidence of that can be seen in nearby lakes Wednesday as plastic bottles, plastic foam and trash can be seen in the water.
“Cigarette butts, oil, grease, trash, soil that is laden with nutrients, pet waste goes straight from our streets, sidewalks and properties through the storm sewers and ends up straight in the lakes. It is all there today,” Katt-Reinders said.
Clean Lakes Alliance said the problem is accentuated in urban settings where paved streets, sidewalks and parking lots force water to run off rather than soak in.
“Basically any surface that makes it hard for water to soak through, that’s a problem for the lakes because instead of having a place where the water can soak in down into the groundwater where it can be filtered before it connects to the lakes, anything running off the surface is carrying every pollutant with it as it travels straight to the lakes,” Katt-Reinders said.
She said the solution to the problem requires municipalities and residents to look for ways to reduce stormwater runoff. Reducing pollutants that are left in positions where they can be introduced into storm sewers is also important.
“I think the key is that as municipalities and as residents of communities, we need to start being more proactive and innovative in the way we think about stormwater management,” Katt-Reinders said.