A watershed is an area of land that catches rain or snow and drains it into the same location. Many people think of only rivers, lakes and wetlands as being part of their watershed. Actually any land including parks, farms, forests, your school parking lot, and even the ground your home is on is in a watershed.

A watershed is like a funnel collecting all the water in an area and draining it into the nearest body of water. Every drop of water is channeled into soil, groundwater, creeks, and streams -- making its way to rivers, lakes, and eventually the ocean. What we do on land affects our water!

Sweet Water works in every major watershed throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. These include the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, Root, and Oak Creek, as well as Lake Michigan and Milwaukee's Inner Harbor. Our organization is built around five key initiatives, each of which is comprised of diverse stakeholders with interest and expertise within the initiative's project area. The purpose of the key initiatives is to ensure a wide range of interests are being considered in watershed restoration efforts. Each key initiative is led by an organization that offers guidance to interested project partners, leadership to project teams, and identifies funding opportunities. Below are our five active key initiatives: 

Milwaukee river

The Milwaukee River is over 100 miles long with a watershed that approaches 900 square miles. Its tributaries spread throughout Fond Du Lac, Sheboygan, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties, collecting runoff from hundreds of farms and towns as it flows south before emptying into Lake Michigan. The Key Initiative Coordinator for the Milwaukee River is River Revitalization Foundation.

For more information about the Milwaukee River basin, click here. 

Menomonee River

The Menomonee River is approximately 30 miles long, flowing from Waukesha County east into Lake Michigan. Its 140 square mile watershed is home to more than 300,000 people and the valley it forms through downtown Milwaukee is heavily industrialized. The Key Initiative Coordinator for the Menomonee River is Milwaukee Riverkeeper

For more information about the Menomonee River Watershed, click here.

Kinnickinnic river

The Kinnickinnic, or KK, is a heavily channelized and urban river approximately 10 miles long. Its watershed is contained entirely in Milwaukee County and covers only 25 square miles but is home to 145,000 people. The Key Initiative Coordinator for the KK River is Sixteenth Street Community Health Center

For more information about the Kinnickinnic River Watershed, click here


Milwaukee's Estuary is located at the confluence of the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers. All three rivers meet before entering Lake Michigan. Historically the home of much of Milwaukee's industry, the area is currently undergoing significant change along the water's edge. The Key Initiative Coordinator for the Estuary is the Harbor District

emerging issues

Sweet Water created the Emerging Issues Key Initiative so that it could respond quickly and attentively to new problems as they arise. Currently, the issue that demands particular focus is the impending release of the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) by the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources. The TMDLs are a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant (phosphorous, total suspended solids, and fecal coliform) a body of water can receive and still meet water quality standards. We expect their release in July 2016 and assist in the development of implementation plans once they are. 

Sweet Water posts all documents pertaining to watershed plans on our Scribd account. Click here to access them.