Menomonee River in Wauwatosa receives face-lift, pools of water gone

Dec. 23, 2015

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is quickly approaching the completion of a project that will improve upstream fish passage along the Menomonee River in Wauwatosa.

Construction to remove several man-made barriers that spanned the width of the river between approximately North 90th and North 83rd streets began in November, said MMSD senior project manager David Fowler.

The obstacles varied in height from 1 to 3 feet above the river bed, but often blocked the passage of fish.

"Fish could make it up there periodically when the conditions were just right," Fowler said.

Northern pike was one of the prime species of interest during the project, and it's assumed small mouth bass could also be expanding in the area, Fowler said.

Overall, the restoration is benefiting more than 39 fish species, including walleye, lake sturgeon, migratory salmonids, and several state-threatened species, according to Sustain Our Great Lakes, one of the project's donors.

The project area looks vastly different now than it did merely weeks ago, Fowler said. Areas that once pooled water have been eliminated. Small rapids now appear throughout the river, which "add a little excitement" for kayakers and canoeists like Fowler.

Protecting history

One of the barriers in Wauwatosa was a limestone dam that crossed the river near the Hoyt Park pool facilities. It's likely the dam was built by the federal Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.

Although that barrier was removed, Fowler said great efforts were taken to preserve historical elements scattered throughout the project area.

A walkway that once crossed the river near the Hoyt Park playground has been removed, although stairs traveling down the river bank remain.

"We were trying to preserve some of the historical nature," Fowler said.

Upstream, just east of the Hoyt Park pedestrian suspension bridge, there was a low dam. Now, white limestone has been strewn instead to create a natural flow that allows fish to navigate more easily. The sewer line in that spot remains in place, but is now covered with stones.

A number of disused pipes from sewer lines were removed as they were no longer needed, Fowler said.

"They're just not needed anymore because new sewers have been built to replace them," he said.

Additionally, several trees were cut down to facilitate the project.

Paying for the project

MMSD received about $767,100 in grants from four different agencies to complete the $1.54 million project; $400,000 from Sustain Our Great Lakes, $200,000 from the Fund for Lake Michigan, $142,100 from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and $25,000 from the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust.

Major work on the barrier removal is expected to reach completion by the end of the year. Some grading work also could be completed before 2016, weather depending. The restoration of vegetation and the installation of turf grass is also expected.

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