Harvey disaster prompts City of Milwaukee to rethink preparing for a flood

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MILWAUKEE -- The rainfall and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey is unprecedented and virtually impossible for any city to manage. It still prompts cities like Milwaukee to rethink preparing for a flood.

"No system in the world could handle forty to fifty inches of rain," said Kevin Shafer, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District executive director.

The rainfall in Houston and southern Texas is devastating. Kevin Shafer, executive director for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, can't help but wonder what he would do.

Kevin Shafer

"Direct that water to a location where it can infiltrate into the ground," said Shafer.

Milwaukee's last significant flooding event was in 2010, and Shafer says the city is in a better position to handle even more water.

"About $400 million worth of work where we are taking concrete out and return creeks to their natural meander, where before we tried to straighten them out," Shafer said.

The city has also built flood basins in Wauwatosa.

"When a storm hits, it will fill up with water and hold that water," Shafer said.

Context is key when you consider four inches of rain in a short amount of time is more than enough to flood city streets.

"If you had four inches of rain in four hours, that's just too fast of an inflow for the system," said Shafer.

Shafer says the amount of rainwater that fell in Houston is unfathomable.

"I'm sure the wastewater plants and the drinking water plants are under water so people won't have drinking water they won't have sanitary services," Shafer said. "I start thinking about those types of situations in Milwaukee."