Kinnickinnic River, Kinnickinnic River Watershed (MI01)
Kinnickinnic River, Kinnickinnic River Watershed (MI01)
Kinnickinnic River (15100)
2.33 Miles
3.16 - 5.49
Natural Community
Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results that use predicted flow and temperature based on landscape features and related assumptions. Ranges of flow and temperature associated with specific aquatic life communities (fish, macroinvertebrates) help biologists identify appropriate resource management goals. Wisconsin Natural Communities.
Cool-Warm Mainstem
Year Last Monitored
This is the most recent date of monitoring data stored in SWIMS. Additional surveys for fish and habitat may be available subsequent to this date.
This river is impaired
Acute Aquatic Toxicity, Degraded Biological Community, Recreational Restrictions - Pathogens, Chronic Aquatic Toxicity
Chloride, Total Phosphorus, Fecal Coliform
Trout Water 
Trout Waters are represented by Class I, Class II or Class III waters. These classes have specific ecological characteristics and management actions associated with them. For more information regarding Trout Classifications, see the Fisheries Trout Class Webpages.
Outstanding or Exceptional 
Wisconsin has designated many of the state's highest quality waters as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs) or Exceptional Resource Waters (ERWs). Waters designated as ORW or ERW are surface waters which provide outstanding recreational opportunities, support valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat, have good water quality, and are not significantly impacted by human activities. ORW and ERW status identifies waters that the State of Wisconsin has determined warrant additional protection from the effects of pollution. These designations are intended to meet federal Clean Water Act obligations requiring Wisconsin to adopt an 'antidegradation' policy that is designed to prevent any lowering of water quality - especially in those waters having significant ecological or cultural value.
Impaired Water 
A water is polluted or 'impaired' if it does not support full use by humans, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life and it is shown that one or more of the pollutant criteria are not met.

Fish and Aquatic Life

Current Use
The use the water currently supports. This is not a designation or classification; it is based on the current condition of the water. Information in this column is not designed for, and should not be used for, regulatory purposes.
Restricted Aquatic Life
Fish and Aquatic Life communities are not fully supported in this ecosystem.
Attainable Use
The use that the investigator believes the water could achieve through managing "controllable" sources. Beaver dams, hydroelectric dams, low gradient streams, and naturally occurring low flows are generally not considered controllable. The attainable use may be the same as the current use or it may be higher.
Default FAL
Fish and Aquatic Life - Default Waters do not have a specific use designation subcategory but are considered fishable, swimmable waters.
Designated Use
This is the water classification legally recognized by NR102 and NR104, Wis. Adm. Code. The classification determines water quality criteria and effluent limits. Waters obtain designated uses through classification procedures.
Default FAL Variance
Fish and Aquatic Life - Default Variance for DO and Pathogens. Waters do not have a specific use designation subcategory but are considered fishable, swimmable with the exception of their meeting water quality standards for dissolved oxygen and fecal coliform.


The Kinnickinnic River is 9.6 miles long with a watershed that covers 25 square miles of drainage area. Along with the main river, many of the tributaries have been extensively modified through straightening, enclosure and concrete lining. The Kinnickinnic (KK) River discharges into Lake Michigan via the federal navigation harbor at Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Water quality has improved for some constituents within the Kinnickinnic River. Concentrations in the Kinnickinnic River of several pollutants associated with combined sewer overflows, such as BOD, fecal coliform bacteria, and ammonia, have decreased. In addition, total phosphorus concentrations in the estuary have decreased. These reductions in nutrients and oxygen-demanding wastes have produced some improvements in dissolved oxygen concentration and in lower chlorophyll-a concentrations in the estuary portion of the River. One important, though not the only, factor responsible for these decreases is the reduction in combined and separate sewer overflows resulting from construction and operation of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) inline storage system.

Concentrations of suspended and dissolved pollutants typically associated with stormwater runoff and other nonpoint source pollution, such as chloride, copper, total suspended solids, and zinc have remained unchanged or increased. For some of these pollutants, such as copper, increases in concentration have occurred in all reaches sampled along the Kinnickinnic River. For others, such as chloride and zinc, concentrations have increased in some reaches while remaining unchanged in others. In addition, specific conductance has increased in at least two reaches of the River, suggesting that the total concentration of dissolved material in the water has increased. In other reaches, the concentration of dissolved material, as indicated by specific conductance, has remained unchanged.

Sediment Conditions

Sediment in the Kinnickinnic River contains concentrations of chromium, lead, PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), zinc, and some pesticides high enough to pose substantial risks of toxicity to benthic organisms, and contains concentrations of cadmium, copper, iron, mercury, nickel, and other pesticides high enough to likely produce some toxic effects in benthic organisms.

Efforts are being made to address the legacy of sediment contamination within the Kinnickinnic River. In 2009 over 167,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment were removed from the Kinnickinnic River between Becher Street and Kinnickinnic Avenue under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)/WDNR Kinnickinnic River Environmental Restoration Great Lakes Legacy Act Project. This area contained the upstream-most significant deposits of contaminated sediment within the Kinnickinnic River. This project removed about 1200 pounds of PCBs and 13,000 pounds of PAHs from the Kinnickinnic River.

In addition to the positive environmental effects to the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern, removing contaminated sediment from this stretch of the KK River leaves a safer, deeper and more navigable river. Several property owners along the project area have expanded or improved their businesses as a result of this project.

The KK River downstream from KK Avenue is a federally maintained navigation channel. The river is routinely maintained to a depth adequate for deep draft commercial navigation. One significant area of known sediment contamination on the KK River is at the Milwaukee Gas and Solvay Superfund Alternative Site. This is an EPA lead project at the site of a former coal gasification facility. The project is in the remedial investigation phase, and involves studies of contamination to land, groundwater and sediment.

Date  2011

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Kinnickinnic River, Kinnickinnic River Watershed (MI01) Fish and Aquatic LifeKinnickinnic River, Kinnickinnic River Watershed (MI01) RecreationKinnickinnic River, Kinnickinnic River Watershed (MI01) Fish Consumption

Impaired Waters

The Kinnickinnic River from Wilson Park Creek (miles 5.49 to 9.93) to the headwaters was identified as impaired for recreation in 2010 caused by bacteria (fecal coliform). During the 2012 cycle this segment was also listed for high phosphorus levels causing degraded biological communities. These listings are covered by the Milwaukee River TMDL, approved in 2018. In the 2018 cycle the additional pollutant of chloride causing toxicity for organisms in the stream was identified. During the 2020 and 2022 cycles the phosphorus and chloride listings were confirmed.

Date  2022

Author  Ashley Beranek

Impaired Waters

The Kinnickinnic River from the mouth at Milwaukee Harbor to 6th Street (miles 0 to 3.16) was listed for PCBs, E. coli, Unspecified Metals, and Total Phosphorus in the 1998 cycle. An additional listing for Fecal Coliform was added in the 2010 cycle and for Chloride in the 2022 cycle. This portion of the Kinnickinnic River was evaluated every two-year cycle from 2012 to 2022. Evaluation of metals showed levels appropriate for healthy aquatic communities.

Date  2022

Author  Ashley Beranek

Impaired Waters

The Kinnickinnic River from 6th Street to Wilson Park Creek (miles 3.16 to 5.49) is listed as impaired for chloride, phosphorus, and fecal coliform. The restoration plan (TMDL) for phosphorus and fecal coliform was approved in 2018. Elevated chloride levels were confirmed in the 2022 cycle.

Date  2022

Author  Ashley Beranek


Wisconsin has over 84,000 miles of streams, 15,000 lakes and milllions of acres of wetlands. Assessing the condition of this vast amount of water is challenging. The state's water monitoring program uses a media-based, cross-program approach to analyze water condition. An updated monitoring strategy (2015-2020) is now available. Compliance with Clean Water Act fishable, swimmable standards are located in the Executive Summary of Water Condition in 2018. See also the 'monitoring and projects' tab.



Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
TMDL Development
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District proposes to develop third-party pathogen, phosphorus, and sediment TMDLs for the Kinnickinnic River Watershed in Southeastern Wisconsin. Additionally, Cladophora algae blooms and increased beach closings have been shown to have a direct relationship to polluted stormwater runoff. The TMDLs will result in pollutant load and wasteload allocations that must be met to meet water quality standards and targets and in implementation plans that will identify the steps needed to achieve the load and wasteload allocations.
Watercraft Inspections Clean Boats, Clean Waters
Propose a 3-year project to research and develop instrumentation that monitors ballast water and measures whether or not it adheres to the international regulations.
Information and Education
The Contaminants of Emerging Concern Product Stewardship Initiative is a two-year cooperative effort to implement a comprehensive pharmaceutical and personal care products waste collection, awareness and education, and product stewardship program to prevent toxic discharges to the Great Lakes and improve water quality and wildlife and fish habitat. This initiative will expand the Wisconsin pharmaceutical waste mail back program throughout the state’s Great Lakes basin, support existing pharmaceutical waste working groups, initiate additional working groups in other Great Lakes states, and sponsor both local government and industry product stewardship dialogs that will lead to a model public policy program framework.
TMDL Development
MMSD and Partners create TMDL for Watershed.
Educate and engage residents
The Sweet Water Trust proposes to develop and implement a public education effort based on their past public water quality survey. This media campaign includes 2 radio spots, 2 television advertisements, 2 outdoor billboard advertisements, 2 newspaper display advertisements, 3 feature stories, 2 published feature stories, 2 radio interviews, 10 newsletter stories, and 10 web-based stories. The targeted audience is the general public within the Milwaukee Metropolitan Area and others within the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, Oak Creek, and Root River Watersheds. Sweet Water will track when advertisements and other mass media messages go out and the visits to a website that will be devoted to providing information to listeners/readers/viewers that are prompted by the media campaign to visit the website. Information will be shared with state and local agencies. A final report will be submitted to the WDNR when the project is complete.
Watershed Mapping or Assessment
Increase stewardship for the KK River by engaging diverse stakeholders: increase direct access to the KK. Receive community input and buy-in for the design of trailheads and amenities. This project will promote individual stewardship and involve community based organizations, residents and school in initiatives to restore, enhance and protect the KK river watershed. Tangible results will include construction for five trail heads in conjunction with the City of Milwaukee. With the external groups engagement it will assist in determining the planning process to identify themes and a how long term development of the trail corridor will help transform the KK river and neighborhoods that the river travels through. This project would include: 1) Assemble partnership team to develop structure for workshops and recruiting strategy. 2) Identify and recruit business owners and community based organizations 3) Hold interactive workshops for students, residents and business for interpretation at trail heads 4) Landscape architect translates outcomes of workshops and develops concept designs 5) Additional workshops for feedback 6) After final public input, develop final construction documents with specification for bidding and cost estimates. A final report incorporating all of the project deliverable will be provided.
Improve Public Access
The Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers is proposing to inventory existing access for streams and Lake Michigan for boating, fishing and other forms of riverfront recreation. The goal is to provide an urban water trail and access map, both in paper and electronic format. Public signs and information will be provided for current public access points. A needs assessment would be created based on the inventory, and recommendations and guidance created for future actions and changes needed in local ordinances to facilitate public access to Milwaukee's rivers and Lake Michigan. An additional goal of this project is to inspire public involvement in natural resource management, protection, and restoration activities along our rivers and lake, and provide a greater "sense of place" to the watershed. The Milwaukee Urban Water Trail will create educational materials that will be distributed to the public to promote existing river access. The project would include a needs analysis and action plan that would assess local ordinances and make recommendations for improvements. FMR will publicize the project in newspapers, town meetings, website, quarterly newsletter, conferences, and regional partnership meetings.
Educate and engage residents
New outreach media will enable the KRLT to reach new and more diverse constiuencies, expand their membership base, educate and inform more people and promote the greater protection of the Kinnickinnic River. More specifically they wish to receive new materials for:Changing demographics of the Kinnickinnic River watershed, build new opportunities to publicize the KRLT and its work to protect the River, Highlight the land protection successes of the KRLT, gain new members, build a larger river protection constituency, educate the community about new threats to the River, promote protection opportunities in the watershed, educate the public about the many values of the River and its watershed, enhance outreach opportunities and leverage new sources of funding.
Biomonitoring Toxicity Tests
Conduct toxicity monitoring on Kinnickinnic River and Burnham Canal, Milwaukee Estuary to include seven acute and chronic tests for the KK River project area. There are 5 sites on KK & 2 sites on Burnham.
Water Quality Planning
Project: Kinnickinnic River (MI01) Watershed Planning
Nine Key Element Plan
Kinnickinnic River Milwaukee PWS Plan - Nine Key Element Plan - The Kinnickinnic River Watershed Priority Watershed Project plan assesses the nonpoint sources of pollution in the Kinnickinnic River Watershed and guides the implementation of nonpoint source control measures. The purpose of this project is to reduce the amount of pollutants originating from nonpoint sources that reach surface water and groundwater within the Kinnickinnic River Priority Watershed Project area.
TMDL Development
TMDL development for Kinnickinnic Watershed
TMDL Development
Cooperate on third-party TMDL work being conducted by MMSD in the Kinnickinnic River Watershed.
Restore Riparian Habitat
Rehabilitate in-stream and riparian habitat within the eroding portions of the mainstem of the Kinnickinnic River between Chase Avenue and Becher Street. Actions required could include land acquisition for buffer expansion, bed and streambank protection measures, and fisheries habitat improvements.
Monitor Targeted Area
Support work by the Great Lakes WATER Institute to identify sources of human bacteria in the Kinnickinnic River Watershed.
Engage Volunteers in Monitoring/Restoration
Continue expansion of trash and debris cleanup efforts and programs within Kinnickinnic River Watershed waterways and associated riparian lands.
Runoff Evaluation
Identify and Implement Best Management Practices for use of salt to decrease loading into the waterbodies of the Kinnickinnic River Watershed.
Restore Wetlands
Support efforts to restore the Grand Trunk Wetland Site at the Milwaukee Harbor
Sediment Remediation
Large Scale Remediation of KK River - This fullfills a recommendation identified in the 1990s in the Milwaukee Remedial Action Plan.

Management Goals

Wisconsin's Water Quality Standards provide qualitative and quantitative goals for waters that are protective of Fishable, Swimmable conditions [Learn more]. Waters that do not meet water quality standards are considered impaired and restoration actions are planned and carried out until the water is once again fishable and swimmable

Management goals can include creation or implementation of a Total Maximum Daily Load analysis, a Nine Key Element Plan, or other restoration work, education and outreach and more. If specific recommendations exist for this water, they will be displayed below online.


Monitoring the condition of a river, stream, or lake includes gathering physical, chemical, biological, and habitat data. Comprehensive studies often gather all these parameters in great detail, while lighter assessment events will involve sampling physical, chemical and biological data such as macroinvertebrates. Aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish communities integrate watershed or catchment condition, providing great insight into overall ecosystem health. Chemical and habitat parameters tell researchers more about human induced problems including contaminated runoff, point source dischargers, or habitat issues that foster or limit the potential of aquatic communities to thrive in a given area. Wisconsin's Water Monitoring Strategy was recenty updated.

Grants and Management Projects

Monitoring Projects

Watershed Characteristics

Kinnickinnic River is located in the Kinnickinnic River watershed which is 33.35 mi². Land use in the watershed is primarily urban (70.30%), suburban (24.10%) and a mix of forest (2.80%) and other uses (2.70%). This watershed has 26.80 stream miles, 4,950.14 lake acres and 68.30 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked High for runoff impacts on streams, High for runoff impacts on lakes and High for runoff impacts on groundwater and therefore has an overall rank of High. This value can be used in ranking the watershed or individual waterbodies for grant funding under state and county programs.However, all waters are affected by diffuse pollutant sources regardless of initial water quality. Applications for specific runoff projects under state or county grant programs may be pursued. For more information, go to surface water program grants.

Natural Community

Kinnickinnic River is considered a Cool-Warm Mainstem under the state's Natural Community Determinations.

Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results and DNR staff valiation processes that confirm or update predicted conditions based on flow and temperature modeling from historic and current landscape features and related variables. Predicated flow and temperatures for waters are associated predicated fish assemblages (communities). Biologists evaluate the model results against current survey data to determine if the modeled results are corect and whether biological indicators show water quaity degradation. This analysis is a core component of the state's resource management framework. Wisconsin's Riverine Natural Communities.