2012 River Report Card

December 22, 2013

Milwaukee Riverkeeper released its third annual Milwaukee River Report Card highlighting water monitoring results from our 2012 water monitoring season. The Milwaukee River Basin overall earned a C-, which was a slight improvement from a D+ in 2011. The report card shows while we have come a long way in improving certain aspects of water quality, that we still have a long way to go before we have clean, fishable and swimmable streams throughout the Milwaukee River Basin.

The report analyzes data from Riverkeeper’s 88 dedicated citizen stream monitoring volunteers testing water at 100 sites, as well as data from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR).

The Milwaukee River Watershed 2012 grade showed no overall improvement from 2011, receiving another C grade (the watershed received a B- in 2010). Our 2011 Report Card was the first to include data for both the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic River Watersheds. The grade for the Menomonee River Watershed remained at a dismal D in 2012, which was the same as the 2011 grade. The Kinnickinnic (KK) River grade improved to a C- in 2012 from a D- grade in 2011. Significant improvements for the KK were documented in both Riverkeeper and MMSD data. One possible explanation could be that the KK River is heavily urbanized, and there was a significant reduction in urban runoff in 2012 due to a significant drought, which led to water quality improvements especially in reduced turbidity and improved oxygen levels. It's also important to note that pollutant sources to the Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers are more varied, the watersheds are larger, and statistically had much more data collected than the KK River.

The River Report Card provides a snapshot of the health of our rivers at subwatershed, watershed, and basin levels. The report highlights data for water quality parameters such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, pH, macroinvertebrates (aquatic organisms), bacteria, phosphorus, chloride, and conductivity, and explains how parameters were assessed to determine grades.

While basic water quality parameters such as temperature, oxygen, and pH are largely good and stable, most of our watersheds are not meeting many standards for what is considered safe for fish and aquatic life or human recreational use. Of particular concern are total suspended solids, bacteria, chlorides, and phosphorus. Our region is currently working on pollution reduction plans or TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) for reducing the levels of suspended solids, bacteria, and phosphorus to our rivers, and these are expected to be released early next year.

Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn states, “While the grade is disappointing to all of us who value clean water and healthy communities, the Report Card provides the information that we and our partners need to continue working to restore the health of our rivers in a targeted and cost-effective way.”

The Milwaukee River Report Card is a tool to help determine where in the watershed action is most needed to reduce pollution levels and to improve water quality and aquatic habitat. The Report Card also highlights how individuals can take part in the effort to improve our waters through changing behaviors such as reducing application of fertilizers and road salt, as well as by volunteering to monitor water quality.

The 2012 River Report Card is attached below and here are links to our 2011 and 2010 River Report Cards. 

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2012 River Report Card.pdf4.12 MB