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Detention Ponds, Not Homes, Played Host to Recent Flood Event

MILWAUKEE COUNTY, WI – Incorporated in 1955, the Village of Brown Deer has been impacted by flooding several times. The village has low-lying areas and two tributaries, Beaver Creek and South Branch Creek, which funnel down to the Milwaukee River. Heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding in July 2010 challenged the city’s mitigation project and lost.

“The community had a lot of concrete-lined channels that moved stormwater away from properties and down to the river,” said Russell Van Gompel, Village Manager. “In a normal situation, that would work. However, when the Milwaukee River is high, the channels don’t carry the capacity that they can at other times, resulting in flooding.”

Two significant flood events, in 1997 and 1998, heightened the need for flood-mitigation activities. Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offered a solution: to use Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds to execute a buyout of nine flood-prone homes. HMGP provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration. The purpose of the HMGP is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster.

At a total cost of $1,018,830.86 ($764,123.14 federal, $127,353.86 each state and local), nine repetitive loss properties were acquired. Following removal of the homes, a stormwater detention basin was created with funding from the Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD).

Three other detention basins were also constructed with funding from MMSD. A 2.5-acre detention pond was built adjacent to the public library. The pond is capable of holding approximately 5.5 million gallons of water during a rainstorm. After a rain event, water captured in the basin goes back to South Branch Creek. Another 5-acre basin was constructed to hold approximately 4 million gallons of water. A third basin was built upstream and is capable of holding 6.2 million gallons of stormwater.

The village also executed two additional initiatives to assist residents in the battle to manage stormwater. The “Early Out Project” involved reducing the volume of stormwater runoff flowing to one of the village’s neighborhoods by rerouting water flow. “Operation Flood Fix”( was funded through a Community Development Block Grant and involved low-and moderate-income households having flood-proofing improvements made to their homes, such as installation of back-flow prevention valves in basement floor drains and glass-block basement windows.

In July 2010, powerful thunderstorms caused massive flooding in Milwaukee County with some areas receiving up to 7.5 inches of rain. Portions of the Interstate flooded and a massive sink hole opened up at an intersection north of downtown Milwaukee and swallowed an SUV and a stop light. There were reports of people stranded, basements becoming ponds, and homes suffering extensive damage in portions of the county. The Village of Brown Deer had up to 5 inches of rain; however, there were no reports of major destruction from the flood event.

Referencing the July 2010 flood event, Van Gompel attributes the lack of devastation in the village to flood-mitigation measures in place. Flood-prone homes had been demolished, removing residents from harm’s way, and the detention basins held the floodwaters at bay.

“Because of all the work we did after the 1998 flood, we were able, for the most part, to avoid significant damage to homes in this recent event. We had up to five inches of rain in a two-hour period. It was really intense!”

Last updated June 3, 2020