For the past 4 years, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, in partnership with the UWM-Great Lakes Water Institute has extensively monitored bacteria levels in the lower reaches of the Menomonee River as well as its tributaries, and to a lesser extent, the Kinnickinnic River Watershed.

The Project:

Specifically, we have focused our stormwater outfall testing on a 10.5 mile section of the Menomonee River from Burleigh Street south to Hawley Road, including portions of Honey Creek and Underwood Creek that discharge into that section of the Menomonee.
We have tested 246 total outfalls in both watersheds for bacteria, and 168 of these were tested specifically for human inputs using genetic testing. This past fall, we received the final results of our monitoring through 2010 from the Great Lakes Water Institute; the numbers are startling.We are testing this portion of the river because water quality monitoring and modeling has shown that bacteria levels in this section of the Menomonee can be up to 1,000 times higher than what we would expect from normal stormwater runoff. In the Kinnickinnic River Watershed, we have monitored stormwater outfalls along the Kinnickinnic River mainstem from 6th Street west to 60th Street; Holmes Avenue Creek, which flows through an industrial area near General Mitchell International Airport; and portions of Lyons Park Creek, Jackson Park Creek and Villa Mann Creek.

Lab results show that 33% of these outfalls have tested positive for human strains of Bacteroides (bacteria strains found in the human gut, most likely originating from failing sanitary sewer infrastructures and private sanitary sewer laterals). Large quantities of human bacteria may indicate a higher risk of pathogens in the water, including coincidental waterborne pathogenic diseases such as ear infections, dysentery, typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis, and Hepatitis A.

Next Steps:

Bacteria Testing

Given these findings, Milwaukee Riverkeeper is committed to working with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), municipalities, and government agencies to “go up the pipe” to determine the exact points of sewage entering into the storm water sewer system. We are collaborating with Dr. Sandra McClellan’s lab at the Great Lakes Water Institute and MMSD to further identify problem areas, conduct additional monitoring and investigation, and to fix bacteria problems arising from tainted storm water outflows. Significantly, MMSD recently found and fixed two problem pipes (one on Honey Creek and one on the Kinnickinnic River), leading to measurable improvements in water quality.

In short, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and its partners are dedicated to using the best science to strategically pinpoint sources of bacterial contamination and to advocate for the financial resources needed for municipalities to fix these problems so that we can have safe, clean, “swimmable” rivers. We are grateful to the Joyce Foundation and Brico Fund for their support of this important work, as well as to our partners at the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust.

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