Friday, June 5, 2009

Water Quality on the Milwaukee River

Milwaukee River water quality.

This spring I have been amazed at the increasing quality of the water on the Milwaukee River. Last night while trying out longer bellied spey lines at Hubbard Park, I observed an amazing mixed hatch of mayflies and caddis. Tan caddis lightly sprinkled with black caddis, blue winged olives, warm water cahills, midges, sulphers, and possibly gray drakes. This is a tremendous sign that water quality is good. The non-spawning immature smallmouth bass in the riffles that were home to the hatches were gorging on food.

I had an introduction to water monitoring for the Milwaukee Riverkeeper by my friend Rick F. We took PH levels, dissolved oxygen, and temperature and turbidity. In addition to that, we pried up streamside rocks to find out what kind of larvae were living under them. All this in the Hubbard to Capitol drive stretch which emerged from suffocation when the North Avenue bridge came down. Before the dam was removal, the only bugs in the area were mosquitoes, and the water stank.

Water clarity in the Milwaukee was excellent all year until recently when rains coincided with farmers plowing their fields. The north branch of the Milwaukee is running rather muddy, and downstream the silt is being carried in the water.

Recently a beaver has been spotted in the clean water around Good Hope road. (pictures here from the Milwaukee RiverKeeper). This stretch runs clean until the MMSD outflow pipe on the northeast bank of Green Tree road adds fecal matter and stink. Then downstream on Green Tree Rd. the water backs up from the small waterfalls at Kletzch Park, and is slow and unhealthy.

Beavers are a sign of healthy water and habitat. The Milwaukee River has come a long way since the days of its reputation as the big stinky. The removal of the Estabrook dam is the next step in aiding the river in repairing itself from the best intentions of mankind. That and preventing MMSD from arbitrarily dumping sewage in the river every time Milwaukee receives more than two inches of rain. If we are going to call ourselves “The Water City” we better clean up our act first.

A colleague of mine was teasing me about the beaver, theorizing that perhaps it had been recruited by the Estabrook Dam preservation faction to perform repairs and stabilize the structure with its beaver-dam engineering skills. ;)


  1. Wow, Erik, you are suddenly posting a lot and that is great! I enjoy what you write. (Just as an aside, you totally had me until your comment about beaver recruitment.)

  2. Out of one side of our mouths, we tout our "leadership"...The Milwaukee 7 Water Council pursues its mission to make the Milwaukee Region the world water hub for freshwater research, economic development and education..
    While at the same time we continue to dump MILLIONS of gallons of "mixed sewage" into our rivers and lake, without consequence.

    It's obvious that NOT dumping poo in our waters, NOT stagnating water in useless impoundments, and NOT leaving PCBs and toxins in the riverbed will help the health of our rivers and lake, but alas we continue to do all these things and more.

    Miraculously, the Milwaukee River is alive in places and is fighting it's way back after close to 100 years of dumping and damning and mistreatment. I guess we're just two of the lucky few who have witnessed and understand WHY a free flowing river is a healthy river.

    But in the end Milwaukee will spend millions marketing itself as an oasis of water research and development, while at the same time dumping feces in our rivers, and fighting to keep a useless dam that is a detriment to the health of the river.

    That is the dichotomy of Milwaukee.

  3. Today we are challenged with finding ways to balance our use of land and water with our desire to protect and water clarity in the Milwaukee was excellent all year and thank you for shearing this.

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  4. I agree with all of you. I'm a kayaker and it is just sad to see how Our Milwaukee River is the way that it is. It is a disgrace to our city when it could be the prize that flows through it.


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