MILWAUKEE – Each year, Milwaukee Riverkeeper releases an Annual River Basin Report Card, detailing the health of the Milwaukee River Basin’s three major waterways. With less than a one-percent increase in grade from last year, the Milwaukee River Basin remained firmly below average scoring a D+, but Milwaukee Riverkeeper remains hopeful as great efforts are being made to improve water quality and more improvements are yet to come.

“Despite our collective efforts in 2019, the Milwaukee River Basin continues to struggle with phosphorus, bacteria, specific conductivity and turbidity problems. It took decades to degrade these rivers, and it’s going to take some time before we see grades that we can be proud of,” said Riverkeeper, Cheryl Nenn.

It’s not just about the environment, though. According to Milwaukee Riverkeeper, river health and economic health are intertwined.

“Improving water quality in the Milwaukee River Basin requires both patience and long-term investment. Studies show that every dollar invested in watershed conservation leads to at least two-and-a-half dollars in economic gain. That means investing in our waterways strengthens our communities and restores our economy too,” said Executive Director, Jennifer Bolger Breceda.

The key to seeing real improvements, Bolger Breceda believes, is cooperation. With more than 75 volunteer water monitors, as well as data collected from government agencies like Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and Ozaukee County Parks & Planning, Milwaukee Riverkeeper tries to gather as much information as possible to get an accurate snapshot of annual river health.

“It’s not just about non-profits, the government, businesses, or even individual actions — it’s about all of us working together. While our grade may not be where we all want it to be, there is real work happening around the Basin to restore our rivers. This collective effort is hard to quantify, but it is very real,” says Bolger Breceda.

As for how people can get involved? Nenn says the best way to start is to learn about the waterway in your own backyard.  You can take real action to improve your local river by participating in local cleanups and restoration activities, and minimizing your use of fertilizers, salt, and other chemicals at home.  Read the full report and find other ways to get involved at


Milwaukee River Basin Grade stalls, with less than 1% change, moves from D in 2018 to D+ in 2019

  • The Basin saw a slight improvement of nearly 1%in grade from 2018 to 2019, and continued to struggle with phosphorus, bacteria, specific conductivity and turbidity.

  • Rainfall in 2019, exceeded the record set in 2018, and was the wettest year in recorded history for both Wisconsin and the Midwest. This resulted in more polluted runoff to local waterways.

  • While still failing to meet water quality standards, phosphorus grades saw some improvement in both the Menomonee and Milwaukee River Watersheds in 2019.

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