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With the help of federal funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, cleanup and restoration projects in the Milwaukee River Estuary Area of Concern are underway. As Milwaukee’s rivers improve, local citizens and visitors are once again able to enjoy these valuable resources.

Contact information
For more information, please contact:
Stacy Hron
Milwaukee Estuary AOC coordinator

Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern

About

About the Milwaukee Estuary AOC

The Milwaukee Estuary was designated an Area of Concern (AOC) in 1987 by the International Joint Commission 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 nearly all of the eleven beneficial use impairments within the original boundaries of 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 While Milwaukee still maintains a viable commercial port, some of the river reaches within the estuary are no longer maintained through dredging.

The original boundaries of the AOC included 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 harbors; 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.

In 2008, the boundaries of the AOC were expanded for the purposes of addressing sites that contributed significant loads of contaminated sediments to the estuary. These expanded portions of the AOC are associated with the beneficial use impairments that are directly connected to contaminated sediment (see Beneficial Use Impairments tab).

The DNR worked with community stakeholders to develop a Remedial Action Plan in 1991, with updates in 1994 and 1999. Since that time, much work has been completed and significant progress made towards improving conditions in the AOC. DNR is committed to making progress in the AOC sufficient to eventually delist, or eliminate, the Area of Concern designation, and to that end has begun working again with stakeholders identifying goals and actions necessary to address legacy contamination in the AOC.

The main priorities for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC include:

  • remediation of contaminated sediments in tributaries and nearshore waters of Lake Michigan;
  • nonpoint source pollution control;
  • improving water quality for recreation; and
  • enhancing fish and wildlife habitat and populations.

Community engagement

Community Advisory Committee (CAC)

The UW–Extension has been working with stakeholders to form a Community Advisory Committee. More information about stakeholder involvement will be found on this website as it becomes available.

UWEX previously partnered with a Stakeholder Delegation to provide education and outreach regarding the AOC. They also provided two–way communication between AOC staff and the Delegation member organizations. The team consisted of twelve people representing a balance between public, private and nonprofit interests in the Milwaukee estuary and harbors. UW–Extension recruited volunteers for the team in spring 2012. Members were chosen based on their unique background, interest and ability to serve as a liaison to a larger audience.

More information about stakeholder involvement can be found on UW Extension’s website [exit DNR].

Get involved

To learn more about AOC community events, volunteer opportunities and more check out these links to our partner agencies.

AOC newsletters

Maps

Maps

On July 18, 2008, the EPA approved expanding the geographic boundaries for the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC). Evidence showing contributions of toxic substances from upstream sources has accumulated since the boundaries were originally drawn in 1980. This change more accurately reflects ecosystem impacts connected with the beneficial use degradation described in the Milwaukee Estuary Remedial Action Plan and subsequent documents. Several specific expansions are included in the plan.

  • 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 Lincoln Creek from confluence with Cedar Creek to North Avenue Dam. This addition includes the portion of the Milwaukee River influenced by contaminated sediments from Lincoln Creek and Cedar 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.

Impairments

Impairments

Eleven of the possible 14 beneficial uses identified by the International Joint Commission are impaired or suspected to be impaired for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC.

  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption*
  • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations*
  • Beach closings/recreational restoration
  • Fish tumors or other deformities
  • Degradation of aesthetics
  • Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
  • Degradation of benthos*
  • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
  • Restrictions on dredging activities*
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat*

*Note that the Milwaukee Estuary AOC boundaries were modified in 2008 in order to address toxic contamination originating in the upstream portions of the watersheds. The starred items above apply to only the expanded portions of the AOC, while all 11 impairments apply to the original boundaries of the AOC. Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems and fish tumors or other deformities are both suspected to be impaired, since no data regarding these impairments currently exists for the AOC.

Resources

Links related to the Milwaukee Estuary AOC

Videos

Lake Michigan and the rivers that feed it have been Milwaukee’s dominant natural resources since the days of the Potawatomi. Join historian John Gurda for a lively, illustrated look at the lake and its adjacent waterways. See how they served the community and how they have weathered a cycle of heavy use to emerge as focal points of both concern and celebration in the 21st century.

Projects

Projects

Community meeting set to discuss next phase sample results

Recent samples of soil and sediment from the Milwaukee River floodplain indicate the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. The sampling area, chosen as the next phase in ongoing river cleanup efforts, covers approximately 4 river miles on the east and west sides of the river between Estabrook Dam and the former North Avenue Dam. The floodplain is largely open to the public and contains walking trails as part of the Milwaukee River Greenway.

The amount of PCBs in this section of floodplain soil is generally low, so touching the dirt will not make people or pets sick. These FAQ include common sense steps such as washing hands and removing shoes when returning home to minimize exposure.

Milwaukee riverfront property owners, community members and stakeholder groups are encouraged to attend a public meeting set for April 18, 2017 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Gordon Park Pavilion, 2828 N. Humboldt Boulevard, to discuss the results from this latest sampling effort.

Last revised: Monday September 18 2017