The City Known for ‘Sewer Socialists’ Actually Has Great Sewers

Dec 12, 2019


Sewer socialists” was a pejorative label applied to the leftists who governed Milwaukee during the early 20th century and often boasted about their achievements in sanitation. One hundred years later, the city’s sewerage system is a source of pride again. Joel Brammier, the executive director of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, has hailed the “astounding” performance of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) at stopping overflows, while Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, described the leadership of MMSD Executive Director Kevin Shafer as “the gold standard.”

Milwaukee’s current success is notable given that, a few decades back, it was struggling to manage its wastewater. The city’s reputation became so bad that in 1972, the state of Illinois sued Milwaukee and three other Wisconsin cities, alleging they were a public nuisance and asking a court to force officials to address the estimated 200 million gallons of untreated discharge flowing into Lake Michigan every day. (The MMSD reached a separate agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to reduce overflows.)

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