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Milwaukee River Basin

The rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands in the Milwaukee River basin sustain a wide range of plant and animal life. From the seemingly untouched areas within the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest to the areas near cities challenged by pollution and habitat modification, one thing remains constant: our land and water resources are forever linked.

Our activities on the land have an effect not just at the point of origin, but ripple throughout the basin. The quality of our rivers, lakes and groundwater also has influence over what we do on the land.

Today we are challenged with finding ways to balance our use of land and water with our desire to protect, restore and enhance the natural resources in the Milwaukee River basin. Building and maintaining strong partnerships with shared visions and goals are essential to striking this balance.

The Milwaukee River basin is located in portions of seven counties, contains (entirely or portions of) 13 cities, 32 towns, 24 villages and is home to about 1.3 million people. The southern quarter of the basin is the most densely populated area in the state, holding 90 percent of the basin’s population.

The basin is divided into six watersheds. Three of the watersheds (Milwaukee River North, Milwaukee River East-West and Milwaukee River South) contain the Milwaukee River from start to finish and collectively occupy two-thirds of the basin area (584 square miles). The other three watersheds (Cedar Creek, Menomonee River and Kinnickinnic River) are named after the major rivers they contain.

Collectively the six watersheds contain about 500 miles of perennial streams, over 400 miles of intermittent streams, 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 57 named lakes and many small lakes and ponds. Wetlands encompass over 68,000 acres or 12% of the basin land area.

Water Resource Information For Specific Watersheds

Watershed Name/View Details Watershed size Lists (Streams, Lakes, Bays & Harbors) Counties Water Management Unit (WMU) Major Drainage System
Cedar Creek 129.26 mi 2 MI04 water lists Ozaukee, Washington Milwaukee River Lake Michigan
East and West branches Milwaukee River 266 mi 2 MI06 water lists Dodge, Fond du Lac, Ozaukee, Sheboygan, Washington Milwaukee River Lake Michigan
Kinnickinnic River 33.35 mi 2 MI01 water lists Milwaukee Milwaukee River Lake Michigan
Menomonee River 136.12 mi 2 MI03 water lists Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha Milwaukee River Lake Michigan
Milwaukee River South 167.9 mi 2 MI02 water lists Milwaukee, Ozaukee Milwaukee River Lake Michigan
North branch Milwaukee River 149.67 mi 2 MI05 water lists Fond du Lac, Ozaukee, Sheboygan, Washington Milwaukee River Lake Michigan