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🛶 Let’s Dive In: Milwaukee Riverkeeper's 2022 Report on River Health 🐠

Milwaukee’s rivers have undergone many changes over the years, both positive and negative. As we navigate an era marked by environmental challenges, the importance of tracking these changes and unlocking informed solutions becomes increasingly apparent. Taking an innovative approach to solving water-related issues is no longer a want, but a need. This report is intended to serve as a comprehensive reference, offering insights into the Basin’s history and water quality, the pressing issues it faces today, and the promising steps toward restoration. We hope the information presented in this report will inspire informed decision-making, foster greater community engagement, and catalyze a renewed dedication to the revitalization of our rivers.

This report represents an incredible amount of work from local government agencies, leaders, and community partners to prioritize clean water. The interconnectedness of water-related challenges and the need for collaborative, innovative solutions cannot be over-emphasized. Milwaukee Riverkeeper is committed to building a community that recognizes the inherent value of water and is dedicated to safeguarding this precious resource.

Top Takeaways for 2022

In this year’s report, we see:

  • The entire Basin continues to receive failing grades for pollutants like phosphorus and bacteria, although there were some improvements in most of the subwatersheds. This is hopeful because we saw more rainfall in 2022, but not an increase in runoff pollution.

  • Overall grade improvements across the Basin in every watershed/subwatershed except the Estuary.

  • The South Branch of the Milwaukee River moved up to a C- for the first time in 6 years

  • Low snowfall totals led to improvements in chloride pollution (road salt) – with the best grades since 2015. 

What can we do about it?

Large scale policy change is necessary if we want to fully address these water quality issues in the Milwaukee River Basin. The looming threat of climate change, which in our area looks like extreme and volatile wet-weather events, makes upgrading leaky sewer infrastructure, infiltrating as much water as possible, protecting our soils, and minimizing polluted runoff even more important.

It’s taken decades for our rivers to become polluted, and it will take decades to restore their health. You can help ensure that change happens by taking action. Even small acts and choices can create meaningful change. Here are a few ideas:

  • Consider installing a rain barrel or rain garden to catch water where it falls.

  • Be mindful of road salt usage; excess salt isn’t safer, it actually leads to chloride pollution that harms local rivers.

  • Compost leaves; decaying leaf litter contributes to phosphorus, which can cause harmful and unsightly algae blooms and poor water quality conditions for aquatic life.

  • Contact your elected officials to ask for stronger regulations for clean water; consider running for local office and getting engaged in the future of your river community.

  • Sign up for the Milwaukee Riverkeeper e-newsletter to stay up to date with opportunities to help protect and restore our rivers, or follow us on social media.


Pitch in before Rock the Green's Annual Earth Day Celebration at Milwaukee Riverkeeper's 29th Spring Cleanup

DATE & TIME: Saturday April 20, 9am - Noon

LOCATION: 90+ sites in Ozaukee, Washington, Milwaukee, and Waukesha Counties


This spring, join together in a community-wide effort across Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties to remove over 100,000 pounds of trash from our river system during the 29th Annual Milwaukee Riverkeeper Spring Cleanup! Milwaukee Riverkeeper provides the gloves, trash bags and FREE T-SHIRTS, you provide the people power, and together we will restore our waterways! Registration is required.

Photo Contest!

  • Head out to your preferred cleanup site on the day of the event.

  • Take a picture of your group, adorable kids/pets/friends, or anything you find unique, unusual, or inspirational during the event.

  • Post your photos and tag @mkeriverkeeper and #MRKCleanup29 to enter.

  • You could win a prize filled with outdoor equipment and apparel to enhance your time outside ($300 value).  Includes:  MRK branded Cotopaxi Fleece, Patagonia Fish Cap, Patagonia Black Hole Duffel, MRK Branded Hydroflask Water Bottle, Browning Headlamp, REI Field Notebook

  • One photo = one entry. Post as many as you’d like!

  • Win! We’ll pick our favorite photo and contact you to arrange for pick up


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