The challenge

Our rivers and Lake Michigan are invaluable resources that hold the key to our region's vitality. These waters have defined our history, influenced our economy, and enriched the quality of our lives for centuries.

Our waters face many challenges, including stormwater runoff pollution. Stormwater runoff is rain that falls on the land and flows directly into nearby rivers and lakes. On its way, the water picks up and mixes with contaminants on the ground, including:

  • Oil, grease, metals, and coolants from vehicles;
  • Fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals from homes, gardens, and farms;
  • Bacteria from animal waste and failing septic systems;
  • Soil from construction sites and other bare ground; and
  • Soaps and other chemicals from car or equipment washing, leaky storage containers, and accidental spills.

In most areas, stormwater runoff enters these waters without being cleaned of pollutants. Unmanaged stormwater runoff has caused serious damage to our waters, so much so that many of the waters in our area have been designated as impaired.

Excess stormwater pollution and other issues such as contaminated sediment, degraded fish and wildlife habitat, and decreased recreational opportunities created the need for a watershed-wide approach and regional collaboration. Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc., affectionately known as Sweet Water, was formed in 2008 to provide leadership in the effort to address these challenges. 

the approach

Since 2008, Sweet Water has collaborated with diverse stakeholders in efforts to secure healthy and sustainable water resources in the Greater Milwaukee watersheds. We base decisions on sound science, taking a watershed approach that bridges jurisdictional and social boundaries and recognizes that how we manage the land affects our water resources. 

To achieve this, we:

  • Develop and implement plans for watershed protection
  • Forge partnerships that build support for water quality projects and improvements
  • Support innovations to advance water quality in a cost-effective manner
  • Promote the use of green infrastructure to improve water quality
  • Provide mini-grants to fund small scale water quality improvement projects
  • Raise public awareness about reducing stormwater pollution
  • Develop and implement policy and regulatory tools