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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Milwaukee pilots a new stormwater management tool.

Milwaukee pilots a new stormwater management tool.

From the July 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

By August, the faded yellow house at 3930 North 35th Street in Milwaukee will be gone. In its place, invisible to all but the team that designed it, will be a new tool for stormwater management: the “BaseTern.” Conceived by Erick Shambarger, the deputy director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, a BaseTern is a basement that’s been converted into a rainwater or stormwater cistern. Milwaukee is completing what is said to be the world’s first such system this month.

The BaseTern concept, which Shambarger trademarked, is simple. Stormwater will be directed to an abandoned or foreclosed property’s basement, which, after the aboveground structure is demolished, is waterproofed and filled with gravel and stormwater-harvesting cells. According to a feasibility study by engineers at HNTB, the system can hold anywhere from 13,000 to 40,000 gallons of water during storms, reducing flooding in adjacent homes.

It’s a clever riff on adaptive reuse, taking advantage of one urban issue—a surplus of city-owned foreclosures—to solve another: the flooding that is increasingly common in dense, impervious neighborhoods like Milwaukee’s Sherman Park, where the pilot project is located.

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