City Council Roundup: Rain Barrels, Recognizing A Retirement And More

A few items from Tuesday’s South Milwaukee City Council meeting …

  • The council gave final passage, by a 4-3 vote, to an ordinance allowing rain barrels in South Milwaukee — with restrictions, too many restrictions, actually. I voted no on this previously, and my vote didn’t change Tuesday. Nor did my rationale. In our effort to rewrite an outdated part of our city code and make rain barrels legal, we are essentially outlawing rain barrels for many people. If that sounds odd, it should. But that’s what we’re getting with the rules we have now enacted. For example, according to the new ordinance, homeowners can have no more than two on their property. And no rain barrel can be within 12 feet of a neighbor’s structure. And they can’t be located in front yards. And they need double screens. And they can only be elevated using concrete, brick or paver platforms. Those are just a few of the 13 detailed requirements we have now placed on rain barrels. I am for more sensible restrictions, something that encourages their use while still giving the city power to crack down on problem property owners. Restrictions like this and this. Instead, we’re going the other way — giving South Milwaukee what has to be one of the most restrictive rain barrel ordinances in the state. 
  • The council accepted the retirement letter of police officer Charles “Mick” Olson, who is leaving the department after more than 31 years. I wish Officer Olson, well known in the community, well.
  • We also voted to fill his position, which will come open in March, as well as two vacant firefighter positions.
  • The council also approved more than $297,0o0 in revolving fund requests for 2013, including funds for two new police cars.
  • As a reminder, the next council meeting is Nov. 26, when final budget passage is expected. The budget public hearing is Nov. 25. I’ll have more details on the budget in a post later this week. There is no meeting on Nov. 19 or Dec. 3.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

11 responses to “City Council Roundup: Rain Barrels, Recognizing A Retirement And More

  1. Rick

    I agree with the ordinance. Rain Barrels should be screened, such as in the backyard, and not in open view from the front yard. I personally think they are ugly and have no place being in the front of the house in open view.

    • Quercus

      Rain barrels don’t have to be “ugly” as there are many different models available. It is an element that may require getting used to as, for instance, were the large swaths of concrete installed for driveways back in the early to mid-1900’s for those not accustomed to parking or storing those new-fangled things called cars. Not only were driveways considered big ugly patches as they replaced our grandparents’ backyard victory gardens, but they increased water runoff into storm sewers. And dirty runoff, at that, considering the waste they collected from vehicles in drips and dribbles. Rain barrels are a bit of a change to our convenience-oriented way of life, but afford us a win-win solution to necessarily higher water (treatment) prices and overwhelmed sewers in heavy rain events. With concrete and impermeable surfaces dominating our urban centers and with lawns doing little to take up runoff, rain barrels and planted surfaces such as mentioned below by bruddockjr do much to promote a more sustainable management of first, our backyard resources and finally, our neighborhood water detention systems. This requires, of course, a bit of creativity and patience as well as some good examples. The regs as proposed display a lack of vision, though I am encouraged by Erik’s standing up for relaxing some of the more strident ones. ..

  2. Rick: That part of the law, the location restriction, I’m actually OK with. It’s the ordinance as a whole – the totality of the 13 detailed restrictions – that I have concerns with. When all guidelines are considered, we are essentially banning rain barrels for many people. And I don’t think that’s right.

  3. mjklemm

    I wish Officer Olson well… He has been one of he FINEST officers we have had on our police force…. thanks for helping keep our community safe…

  4. bruddockjr

    We have 3 rain barrels with a capacity of 50 gallons each, and 3 portable IBC totes with a capacity of 275 gallons each. We also collect rain water and snow melt in our garden and yard with a series of swaled paths on contour which allows the water to slowly ( over a few hours) soak into the soil. In heavy rain and snow melt events the water runs downhill over the patio towards an in ground pond. When that fills any overflow ends up in a small woodland we have that is about 800 square feet. All of this water is kept out of the storm sewers saving a lot of headaches downstream. Also our diversion of the water to our gardens and to storage keeps it from flowing into our neighbor’s yard which in years past would turn to a skating rink in winter freezes after heavy rains and snow melts.
    All our water collection is screened from easy view of the front street by wood lattice screens. Screening over the inlets is done with heavy grade pet proof fiberglass mesh. Rain barrels are elevated on concrete block while the totes are on 4×4 platforms with hardware cloth at top and bottom to keep out any nesting critters. It does not get any batter than that. If someone does not want to collect the water then good for them . We do. We also save leaves for composting and raising soil fertility. Is that restriction to be on next year’s agenda? Why do we have a requirement that we must pay for the amount of rainfall runoff from a property? The Council is restricting the measures that a homeowner can do to remedy the issue of runoff. How Neanderthal is that? Every other community is allowing rain water collection without these sorts of restrictions. I can understand the issue of proximity to neighbors buildings. Our barrels and totes are 12 feet from our house and 50 from the neighbors structures. Erik would you please tell us what all the restrictions are as the meeting notes are not posted yet from Tuesday.

    • Here are the ordinance restrictions …

      21.509.1 Type and Size
      a. The rain barrel unit, whether constructed or manufactured, may vary in style, but shall function as a collector of rooftop rain water for reuse purposes and be limited in use for watering flowers, gardens, and grass; and
      b. The unit shall have a secure lid; and
      c. The unit’s opening shall be protected by double screen; and
      d. The capacity or volume of the unit shall not exceed 55 gallons per barrel; and
      e. The unit shall have an overflow spout/hose affixed to the upper portion of it to allow release of excess water; and
      f. The unit must be maintained in a way so that the barrels are not a nuisance to other property owners (painted or sealed to protect the wood and maintain aesthetics, emptied regularly so as to not allow for mosquito breeding, etc.).
      21.509.2 Location
      a. The unit can only be located in back or side yards; and
      b. Located a minimum of 12 feet from any adjacent property structures.
      c. There is a limit of two rain barrels for single or two family dwellings.
      d. There is a limit of four rain barrels for three family and more dwellings, commercial, etc.
      21.509.3 General Requirements
      a. The unit’s overflow spout/hose shall be directed in a manner as to not to obstruct or drain upon a neighboring property; and
      b. The unit may be elevated by a concrete, wood, or brick paver platform, if required. The platform shall not exceed eight (8”) inches to twelve (12”) inches in height; and
      c. The unit shall not be connected directly to the gutter. A maximum five (5”) inch air gap shall separate the gutter and the unit’s lid to provide easy access to clean the screening and to prevent ice damming in the event the unit is not properly winterized.

      • working parents of three

        Stay friendly with your neighbors as city ordinances like this are enforced by complaint.

        I could totally turn in several neighbors for violations of city ordinances, but they’re good neighbors. One occasionally parks a car on the grass, another allows mother nature to make some interesting landscaping decisions for him that go against the noxious weed ordinance, and one has some obnoxious barking dogs.

        They’re all good people. They drive decently so my kids can safely ride their bikes on our quiet street, they don’t complain when a pack of kids runs around playing flashlight tag and forgets the lot line exists, one neighbor even reads the newspaper, refolds it and puts it in our newspaper box so we can read it, too. We all homeowners who take pride in our houses.

        We know one neighbor well enough to know that a bouncing basketball is his breaking point. So where the kids would love an outdoor hoop we’ve opted to use the delapidated one at the park. We’d be within our right to have a hoop, but neighborly relations are more important than that.

  5. bruddockjr

    Thanks Karen. It remains to be seen what the enforcement level of the rules may be. Craig Maas told me that a variance may be requested from the city engineer’s office for rules of this type. Still that does not address the root problem as to runoff handling. Bryce

  6. Someone who cares

    Send them to my house and give me a fine… I only have one screen on my opening….Everyone that I know that has a rain barrel has just broken at least one of the rules.

  7. Someone who cares

    My husband just came in and read the rules and shared with me that our blocks are 16 inches high. (1 block on top the other). This was to allow us to use a sprinkling can under the spigot. Also our rain gutter is attached so the water goes into the barrel and doesn’t spray all over because the gutter is flying in the wind. Total now of 3 fines. Lock me up…

  8. Melanie

    Mums the word

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