Currently this storm water channel is a lost restoration opportunity. It is a lost opportunity because officials are not trying new approaches to managing urban streams and waters. It is a lost opportunity because the forbidding channel does not engage citizens in the urban environment. It is a lost opportunity to create an appealing urban green space that provides ecological and social functions.
For years, say residents who have spent their lives in this Nakoma neighborhood, this storm water channel has used the traditional storm water management strategy of sending water downhill to the lake as quickly as possible and the technique of creating a straight, narrow, concrete-lined channel.
The Cherokee Drive storm water channel was featured in an earlier post here that described the neglected and eroding state of downstream Nakoma Park on the receiving end of the storm water runoff from the upstream watershed. Nakoma Park is not the ultimate recipient of the storm water however; rather, the City of Madison/Nakoma Road storm water pond is.
It is past time for the City of Madison Engineering Division to let go of the unsatisfactory traditional storm water management approach and time try some new things. Say, for example, City of Madison storm water engineers could try some of the new cutting-edge stream restoration methods like those used by the City of Middleton, WI in its Pheasant Creek stream bank stabilization project.
Local residents like the idea of daylighting this channel and attempting to turn it into an urban stream with terrestrial and aquatic wildlife habitat, a walking path, and a Green Corridor that would link it with other open spaces in the neighborhood and watershed. But Cherokee Drive is not the only under appreciated and neglected green space. Take a look at Manitou Way, portions of the SW Bike Path storm water channel and the storm water channel down the middle of Chippewa Drive pictured below.
What could be done to improve these situations? Thin some of the pest species trees and shrubs (buckthorn, honeysuckle, box elder, for example) so more light would reach the ground. Increased light would encourage the growth of native grasses and wildflowers. The plants would help capture, hold and infiltrate storm water (like a rain garden does). Improved habitat would attract more birds. Cut the grass and weeds and employee someone with landscape architecture skills to design a walking path with benches and viewing areas.
Starting to manage this underused and under appreciated green space would also make it more appealing to neighborhood residents who might begin to use it for recreation instead of a leaf and trash dumping area. This neglected storm water channel could then become a valuable neighborhood resource and a field learning center for students from nearby Cherokee Middle School and Thoreau Elementary School.
But above and beyond the unsightliness of these residential storm water ditches is their ineffectiveness and the fact that this traditional approach to handling storm water squanders valuable rainfall. In this time of drought we can not afford to waste a single drop. Only 54% of the Wingra Watershed’s surface area allows rain to soak into the soil (2003 figures from the Friends of Lake Wingra storm water management plan). Therefore, the rule of thumb is that with every precipitation event, about half of the rain goes down the drain, literally. Sure, some of the storm water runoff ends up in the Arboretum’s wetlands and Lake Wingra, but more of each rain should soak into the ground to replenish ground water and the natural springs that used to be a primary source of Lake Wingra’s water.