U.S. EPA RAP Liaison
U.S. EPA Region 5
77 W. Jackson Blvd. (G-17J)
Chicago, IL 60604
State RAP Contact
Local RAP Coordinator:
WDNR Water Program
- Audubon Society
- City of Milwaukee
- Federation of Environmental Technologists
- Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers
- Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors
- Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitor Bureau
- Great Lakes Commission
- Growing Power
- International Joint Commission
- Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, Inc.
- Menomonee Valley Partners
- Metropolitan Builders Association
- Milwaukee Community Service Corps
- Milwaukee County Parks, Recreation and Culture Development
- Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
- Milwaukee River Basin Partnership
- Milwaukee Urban Garden
- National Park Service
- Natural Resources Conservation Service
- Pier Wisconsin
- River Revitalization Foundation
- Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
- Sierra Club, Great Waters Group
- Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
- University of Wisconsin Extension Basin Initiative
- UW -Extension Basin Education Program
- UW-Sea Grant Institute
- Urban Ecology Center
- Urban Open Space Foundation
- U.S. EPA – Great Lakes National Program Office
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Walleyes for Tomorrow
- WE Energies
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- Wisconsin Wastewater Operators Association
- 16th Street Community Health Center
- AOC Area of Concern
- BUI Beneficial Use Impairment
- CMP/EIS Chemical Management Plan or Environmental Impact Statement
- GLNPO Great Lakes National Program Office
- RAP Remedial Action Plan
- Beneficial Use Impairments
- Delisting Targets
- RAP Development and Status
- Significant RAP Milestones
- RAP Implementation
- RAP-Related Publications
- Community Involvement
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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 , 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:
- Cedar Creek downstream from Bridge Road to confluence with Milwaukee River. This addition encompasses the entire Cedar Creek Superfund site, which contributes sediments contaminated with PCBs to the Milwaukee River.
- Milwaukee River and tributaries from confluence with Cedar Creek to former North Avenue Dam. This area includes the Milwaukee River area that is influenced by contaminated sediments from Cedar Creek and Lincoln Creek. This also includes a large deposit of contaminated sediments located upstream from the Estabrook Park Dam.
- Little Menomonee River from Brown Deer Road to confluence with Menomonee River, and Menomonee River downstream from confluence with Little Menomonee River to 35th Street. The Little Menomonee River contains the Moss American Superfund Site, which potentially contributes contaminated sediments to the Menomonee River.
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.
Beneficial Use Impairments
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Eutrophication or undesirable algae
- Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
- Beach closings
- Fish tumors or other deformities
- Degradation of aesthetics
- Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
- Degradation of benthos
- Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
- Restriction on dredging activities
- Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
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.
Delisting TargetsThe 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.
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.
Significant RAP Milestones
- 1999: Milwaukee Estuary RAP progress update completed.
- 1994: RAP Progress Report (PDF 2.38MB, 282pps) completed, including 32 Stage Two recommendations.
- 1991: Milwaukee Estuary Stage I RAP (PDF 4.64MB, 137pps) document completed.
Contaminated Sediment Removed in Lincoln Park & Milwaukee River (PDF) (2pp, 320K) February 2012
Recent progress and achievements
- In 2005, the WDNR completed the Estabrook Impoundment Sediment Remediation Pre-Design Study (PDF 851 K, 30pp). This study found that the Estabrook Impoundment contributes the greatest mass loading of PCBs to the Milwaukee River and Milwaukee Harbor. Anticipated remediation costs for the project area range from $18 to $36 million depending upon the quantity of contamination addressed and the selected management approach.
- In August 2005, the WDNR completed the Changing Habitat and Biodiversity for the Lower Milwaukee River and Estuary (PDF 5.48MB, 60pps). In 1997 the North Avenue Dam on the Milwaukee River was removed. The WDNR conducted a detailed survey of the riverine habitat in the area.
- In 2004, the WDNR with the assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed a pre-engineering design for the Deepening/Restoration of the Kinnickinnic River within the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern. Eleven project alternatives, including no action and five dredging alternatives combined with two disposal options were evaluated. The details of the evaluation can be found in the Concept Design Documentation Report. The selected alternative calls for dredging up to170000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments, approximately 90% of PCB mass in the project area, creating an 80-ft navigational channel of 20-24 feet deep with side sloped to 11 feet. The dredged sediment is planned to be disposed on the USACE operated Jones Island Confined Disposal Facility (CDF). Updates related to the Kinnickinnic River Project can be found at: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/water/wm/sms/kkriver/index.html
- In 2003, the WDNR, in cooperation and collaboration with local, state and federal authorities, began implementation of the federal BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act of 2000. Under the Wisconsin Beach Program, the WDNR gives grants to communities along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior to monitor beach water for elevated bacteria levels. This information is made available to the public so beach visitors can make informed choices about how to use beach water resources. For more information about the Beach Program and updates on beach water quality, please visit the Beach Health website.
- In 2002, the WDNR completed a sediment assessment effort for the Kinnickinnic River, funded by a USEPA-Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) grant. The purpose of this study was to define he extent of contaminated sediments in the project area. Maximum concentrations of 36 ppm and 244 ppm were detected for PCBs and PAHs, respectively. The results are documented in the 2003 Sediment Assessment Report (PDF 5.73MB, 78pp).
- Cedar Creek Remediation Projects: In 2000 and 2001, Mercury Marine removed approximately 14,000 tons of contaminated sediment from the banks of Hamilton Pond and have enhanced the natural recovery of this system (http://www.epa.gov/Region5/sites/cedarcreek/index.htm).
- Milwaukee River PCB Mass Balance Study: This project focused on tracking PCB transport in seven contaminated impoundments on Cedar Creek and the Milwaukee River in order to target sites for future remediation projects. Based on this analysis it was determined that the Estabrook Impoundment contributes the greatest mass loading (4x the mass) of PCBs to the Milwaukee River and Harbor than all the other Cedar Creek and Milwaukee River impoundments combined.
Current projects and outlook
- Milwaukee River Estuary Fish Spawning Habitat Rehabilitation (Oct. 2005 to Sept. 2007): The WDNR and the Milwaukee Chapter of Walleyes for Tomorrow propose to create riverine habitat suitable for native fish spawning and other aquatic life within the Milwaukee River and Estuary. The project area encompasses a three mile stretch of the Milwaukee River and Estuary and brackets the North Avenue Dam.
- Kinnickinnic River Deepening/Restoration Sediment Project – The final design for this project is expected to be completed in 2006.
- August 2005: Changing Habitat and Biodiversity for the Lower Milwaukee River
(PDF 5.48MB, 60pps).
- April, 2004: Concept Design and Conceptual Report, Kinnickinnic River, Wisconsin, Milwaukee Estuary of Area of Concern Sediment Removal.
- March 2003: Sediment Assessment Report (PDF 5.73MB, 78pps).
- August, 2001: The State of the Milwaukee River Basin (PUBL WT 704 2001) (PDF 1.86MB, 108pps).
- March, 1999: Milwaukee River Environmental Indicators Project
River Basin Partnership (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