Milwaukee Green Map: Watersheds
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Boundaries of Slope, Basins of Water

The boundaries of Milwaukee County, although determined by the history and politics of the area, are (aside from the edge determined by the shoreline of Lake Michigan) without regard for the geography of the region.

This is especially obvious when looking at the catch basins or watersheds which directly effect the population of Milwaukee County.

Eleven major watersheds drain southeastern Wisconsin, of these five directly effect Milwaukee County and its Lake Michigan Shoreline.

A watershed is the drainage system of a specific place. When it rains, surface water eventually flows downhill first to streams, to rivers, and finally, here, to Lake Michigan itself.

This elaborate system of connecting passages brings not only fresh water, but sediments, toxins, animal waste and inorganic materials downstream to Lake Michigan. The health of a watershed is determined by how quickly it drains of water, if wetlands exist to absorb and filter materials, and how much water its soils can absorb.

The construction of homes, the laying of concrete, agricultural use, and the effects of industry relate to the health of drainage basins and the water that leaves them. The quality of water in the region has a direct effect on the wildlife which live in, on or near water here.

Because nearly all of Milwaukee County's water comes directly from Lake Michigan, we drink what we leave to drain into our streets, streams, creeks, and rivers.

Animal waste and pesticide and herbicide use from non-point sources such farmlands and yards, runoff from parking lot surfaces, pet waste dumped into storm sewers, raw sewage which overflows into streams and rivers, toxic materials released through industry and commercial activity; all contribute to the quality of the water we drink.

In Milwaukee County land use has altered most of this region. Only 5% of the total land area of 1,721,113 acres remained unaltered in 1985.

Monitoring and Research

Within Milwaukee County and the surrounding watershed communities, thousands of high school and middle school students have been involved in assessing the quality of waters flowing in the Milwaukee River. Called "Testing the Waters," students collect samples twice a year from assigned sites.They then analyze the water for physical, chemical and biological indicators to arrive at a Water Quality Index. These results are then coordinated through Project Director at Riveredge Nature Center. Not meant to serve as scientific benchmarking, the results, collected since 1990, indicate a slow but continuous improvement in water quality.

Testing the Waters
Project Director, Riveredge Nature Center
4458 W Hawthorne, PO Box 26
Newburg, WI 53060
tel: 414/375-2715 fax: 414/375-2714

Lake Michigan waters will be monitored throughout the year after specified rainfall events through the EPA's volunteer program, EMPACT. Thirteen locations in Milwaukee and Racine County have been selected for monitoring Community Recreational Water Risk.

City of Milwaukee Health Department
tel: 414/375-2715

Additional information about river cleanup:

Milwaukee Cleaner River Project
City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works
841 N Broadway, Rm 820
Milwaukee, WI 53202
tel: 414/286-8162

Great Lakes WATER Institute
600 E Greenfield Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53204

A research and education facility operated by the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM). Involved in aquatic and environmental research and monitoring of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin. Home of the Center for Great Lakes Studies, the Aquaculture Institute and the NIEHS Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center.
tel: 414/382-1700

On the map below, note the large area which funnels surface water through Milwaukee County and into Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for most residents.

Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds

Menomonee R | Milwaukee R | L Michigan | Kinnickinnic R | Oak Cr | Root R
Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds
Menomonee R | Milwaukee R | L Michigan | Kinnickinnic R | Oak Cr | Root R

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