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Milwaukee Estuary

Contact Information

U.S. EPA RAP Liaison
Ajit Vaidya
(vaidya.ajit@epa.gov)
RAP Coordinator
312-353-5713
U.S. EPA Region 5
77 W. Jackson Blvd. (G-17J)
Chicago, IL 60604

State RAP Contact

Local RAP Coordinator:
Marsha Burzynski
(burzym@dnr.state.wi.us)
414-263-8708
WDNR Water Program

Frequent Acronyms

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Milwaukee Estuary AOC Boundary Map

Milwaukee Estuary AOC Boundary Map (PDF) (1pg, 498K)

Milwaukee Estuary shape file (ZIP) (18K)

Background

The Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC) includes: the lower 5 km of the Milwaukee River downstream of North Avenue Dam; the lower 4.8 km of the Menomonee River downstream of 35th Street; the lower 4 km of the Kinnickinnic River downstream of Chase Avenue; the inner and outer Harbor and the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan Exit disclaimer, bounded by a line extending north from Sheridan Park to the city of Milwaukee's Linnwood water intake. The immediate area draining to the AOC encompasses 57.5 km2 or 2.6 % of the entire basin, including lands that drain directly to the AOC via storm sewers and combined sewer systems. This relatively small drainage area contributes disproportionately large amounts of pollutants associated with urban runoff. The AOC acts as both a source of pollution to Lake Michigan and as a sink for pollutants generated throughout the watershed. Consequently, water quality is affected by pollution sources associated with land use from the entire Milwaukee River drainage basin.

Since the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC) Boundary was first drawn in the late 1980s, research has shown that there are significant contributions of toxic substances to the Milwaukee Estuary AOC from upstream sources. As a result, the WDNR is considering submitting a request to modify the current boundaries of the Milwaukee Estuary AOC to include those upstream areas contributing contaminated sediments downstream. The proposed additions to the Milwaukee Estuary AOC are as follows:

The main priorities for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC include: remediation of contaminated sediments in tributaries and nearshore waters of Lake Michigan, prevention of eutrophication, nonpoint source pollution control, improvement of beach water quality, enhancement of fish and wildlife populations, and habitat restoration.

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Beneficial Use Impairments

The Milwaukee Estuary was designated an Area of Concern (AOC) in the mid 1980s because of historical modifications and pollutant loads that contributed toxic contaminants to the AOC and Lake Michigan. Sediments contaminated with PCBs, PAHs, and heavy metals contribute to most of the beneficial use impairments within the AOC. The rivers within the AOC were also historically modified (straightened and dredged) to accommodate large vessel commercial shipping. While Milwaukee still maintains a viable commercial port, some of the river reaches within the estuary are no longer maintained through dredging.

Through the Remedial Action Planning (RAP) process, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) along with the help of Citizens Groups, have identified 11 of the 14 beneficial uses as impaired. Beneficial use impairments (BUIs) in the AOC include but are not limited to: restrictions fish and wildlife consumption, eutrophication or undesiderable algae, beach closings, degraded fish populations, degradation of aesthetics, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, and restrictions on dredging activities.

Over the next 18 months a detailed examination of the existing BUIs for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC will be conducted. The purpose of this assessment will be to identify which BUIs are still valid for this AOC and eliminate those that no longer apply. Delisting Targets for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC will be based off of the information generated during this review process. Once delisting targets are identified, the next step will be to develop a guide for meeting recommended benchmarks to restore beneficial uses through consultations with experts and public participation.

For further information and details on all of the BUIs, see the corresponding Milwaukee Estuary AOC Beneficial Use Impairments (PDF 120K, 2pps) document and the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) documents listed in the Significant RAP Milestones section below.

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Delisting Targets

The 1994 Milwaukee Estuary Remedial Action Plan identified many projects to implement to help meet the vision and goals set for the Estuary by the Citizen’s groups, but did not have the resources to completely identify the extent of the impairments within the AOC or to set delisting targets. The AOC is very complex, and encompasses areas that may have different use impairments and other concerns. For instance, the downstream most portions of the AOC contain the federally maintained navigation channels of the inner and outer Milwaukee Harbor, while the upstream portions of the rivers in the AOC display different characteristics. We recognize that these different areas may display different use impairments and may require different management strategies.

While the state was not able to continue the level of outreach we realized in the RAP program in the early 1990s, the WDNR and partners have been successful at implementing projects to help meet RAP goals. The Milwaukee River Basin Partnership (MRBP) is in the process of pursuing a science and citizen-based approach to determine the extent of use impairments throughout the Milwaukee Estuary, and to set delisting targets for the AOC so we can gauge success toward meeting RAP goals.

The MRBP is the local organization with the citizen and science background, and interest in initiating the BUI delisting process. Over the next two years the MRBP, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will build upon the Milwaukee River Basin Environmental Indicators Pilot Project, and other data gathering projects to review existing data, identify knowledge gaps and work with the public to reach consensus on determining delisting targets. The MRBP will work with the WDNR, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the International Joint Commission (IJC) throughout the process to determine whether or not a BUI is restored, and if it should be recommended for delisting from the AOC.

 

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RAP Development and Status

The development of a Stage Two RAP began in 1991 using technical work groups to develop recommendations. The RAP fosters the philosophy of continuous improvement. The 1993 Milwaukee Estuary RAP document describes progress made on RAP work and outlines a five-year work plan for RAP implementation. The Stage Two RAP is at least 80 percent complete.

Stage One of the Milwaukee Estuary Remedial Action Plan (RAP) was initiated in 1988. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) was primarily responsible for RAP development. A Technical Advisory Committee, a Citizen's Advisory Committee (CAC) and a Citizen's Education and Participation Subcommittee have advised WDNR during RAP development. The CAC has been instrumental in building consensus from divergent views, striving for community-wide unity and enthusiasm for the RAP. Much public awareness has been generated.

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Significant RAP Milestones

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RAP Implementation

Contaminated Sediment Removed in Lincoln Park & Milwaukee River (PDF) (2pp, 320K) February 2012

Recent progress and achievements

Current projects and outlook

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RAP-Related Publications

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Community Involvement

The Milwaukee River Basin Partnership Exit disclaimer (MRBP) is a coalition of community interests dedicated to working cooperatively for the improvement of the Milwaukee Estuary ecosystem through the RAP process. Members come from all sectors of the local community, including business and labor, environmental and conservation groups, government and other organizations, educational entities, as well as the general public

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Photos

Riverwalk development from overlook

Riverwalk development from overlook

Cladophora at Bradford Beach

Cladophora at Bradford Beach

Riverwalk development

Riverwalk development facing downstream

Kinnickinnic River looking upstream toward Paul Davis Property

Kinnickinnic River looking upstream toward Paul Davis Property

North Avenue Dam pedestrian bridge

North Avenue Dam pedestrian bridge


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