The Missing "Small Magic" of Water

Milwaukee surface waters comparison

One loss we have in urban neighborhoods is the ‘small magic’ of water – we no longer see little streams; they run underground in pipes; we no longer see little wetlands and ephemeral wetlands; they are filled. When our only visible water is the big rivers and the Great Lake, we have lessened our opportunities for intimate connections to water, and the sense of stewardship such intimate relationships often engender.

These maps both use the 1835 GLO land survey data. Left, showing present WDNR-mapped surface waters in yellow — notice the absence in Milwaukee — overlaying the historic vegetation of Milwaukee which is extrapolated from those 1835 surveys (reds and blues were large swamps). Milwaukee County boundary is shown; and a the boundary of the inset view to the right. Right, zoomed in to Milwaukee, the 1835 GLO land survey maps, showing then-mapped large wetlands (those visible walking the square-mile sections).

I recently made a project proposal that matches communal food production for the neighborhood with communal inputs of rainwater and energy from the neighborhood. It then also asks for a small share of water to bring back a bit of magic. The idea uses the regularity of food garden watering (with stored rainwater), to substitute for the missing regularity of groundwater supply via a small diversion… to make a small surface wetland functional as part of the urban community garden habitat, and give something back to the earth and the skies.

Nancy Aten