WAUKESHA COUNTY, WI – Elm Grove is a village in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, with a total area of 3.3 square miles, all of it land, except for Underwood Creek, which runs through the center of the village and through the downtown area. The creek was a constant source of flooding until flood control projects were undertaken with grant funding and the support of a population of 6,200 people.
“Underwood Creek is a part of the Menomonee River. You wouldn’t know by driving through but we are a big, big ravine with a river running through it. So it always creates lots of different challenges,” said David De Angelis, Village Manager.
Flooding was always an issue in Elm Grove. During heavy rainfall, the downtown area would get up to 5 feet of water. There was localized flooding along the creek and in homes and talk about doing something about the floods but nothing ever materialized until after the village was hit by two back to back storms in 1997 and 1998. The 1998 flood claimed two lives and damages for were estimated at $11 million dollars, with $9 million in business losses.
As a small community with an annual budget of approximately $6 million dollars, the village embarked upon extensive and expensive flood management projects. A budget analysis of the projects from 1998 to 2007 indicated expenditures totaling $19,251,055.98.
“We started with the regional planning commission, which executed a complete drainage basin study. The study included the village of Elm Grove and the city of Brookfield to determine the best course of action to alleviate flooding,” said De Angelis. “Being that the community is fully developed, it was difficult to find open space for the construction of storage ponds.”
Several mitigation projects were initiated at a cost of $3.7 million. First, a decision was made to mitigate the village park, an 88- acre parcel located in the center of the village. One of the changes was to expand a 3-acre pond to 10 acres to accommodate overflow from Underwood Creek. The other changes involved elevating an area in the park and creating a sledding hill and soccer fields; elevating and rebuilding baseball fields and volleyball courts; reconfiguring parking areas; and creating a berm along the creek.
Another mitigation measure involved property acquisitions. The village purchased several repetitive loss properties and utilized the area to create detention basins at a total cost of $5,460,863. Pilgrim Parkway, a heavily used roadway, experienced flooding numerous times a year and was often closed for days at a time. The road was elevated at a cost of $292,679.59. To mitigate street flooding and sewer backups, the village installed permanent bypass pumps in two targeted areas.Consulting fees and installation costs reached $928,280,23. Sections of Underwood Creek showed marked deteriorations. An embankment stabilization project, totaling $45,645 was also initiated. Approximately $8,685,494 was spent on the Underwood Creek high flow diversion storm sewer. More than $200,000 was spent in mitigation measures to increased culvert/ditch efficiency within the village.
How could a small village accomplish such a large mitigation feat?
Various funding sources were utilized. The village was eligible for grant funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA's) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The purpose of HMGP is to reduce the loss of life and property in future disasters by funding mitigation measures during the recovery phase of a disaster. FEMA provides up to 75 percent of the funding, with the remainder coming from the state or applicant or both. The village also received grants from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District (MMSD), Wisconsin Emergency Management and a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Stewardship Grant, and DNR’s Municipal Flood Control Program. The village has also imposed a storm water utility fee on each resident and created a tax incremental district (taxes are diverted from other government entities to pay for improvements within a defined district).
“Even if grant funding is available, you’re still looking at doing a large portion of the project yourself. Look to non-traditional ways to complete the work. Focus your energy on what you can accomplish and work toward buy-in and participation from the community,” said De Angelis. “People from the community, engineers and business owners, actually volunteered some of their time and services to keep the cost down. Don’t think you need to do it all yourself. Most communities would be amazed at the talented people they have that are willing and able to help. You just need to ask.”