Root River Watershed Restoration Plan

Pike River - IMG_7434.JPG


The Root River Watershed is located in portions of Waukesha, Milwaukee, and Racine counties and drains almost two-thirds of the entire Root-Pike River Basin (198 square miles). Nine sub-watersheds contribute flow: the Upper Root, Whitnall Park Creek, East Branch, Lower Root, Middle Root, Root River Canal, West Branch Root River Canal, East Branch Root River Canal, and Hoods Creek. There are a total of 117 miles of rivers and streams in the Root River watershed. The headwaters begin in west central Milwaukee and eastern Waukesha counties. From there, the river flows southeast, picking up contribution from eight sub-watersheds, and ultimately emptying into Lake Michigan in the City of Racine. Each sub-watershed serves a different land use.

The Upper Root is heavily urbanized. Whitnall Park Creek and the East Branch drainage areas are changing from mixed residential/agriculture to strictly residential as Milwaukee County is further developed. The Root River Canal system, the Middle Branch of the Root, and Hoods Creek primarily drain agricultural land. The Root River Watershed ranges from heavily urbanized at the headwaters and mouth, to agricultural use in the middle drainage area, and back to urban near the City of Racine. All told, agricultural use dominates land usage, at 49 percent, followed by grassland at 16 percent. Urban land uses cover about 14 percent of the land area. The remaining land uses consist of five percent wetland, and five percent barren and shrubland.



The ecological integrity of the River and its tributaries is threatened by a number of problems that restrict potential uses of those streams. Although the watershed includes environmental corridors, parks, and natural areas, and provides opportunities for outdoor recreation, it is adversely affected by:

  • Areas with chronically low concentrations of dissolved oxygen that inhibit aquatic habitats
  • High concentrations of bacteria which indicate that disease-causing agents may be present
  • High concentrations of phosphorus and chloride
  • High concentrations of total suspended solids
  • Streambed and streambank erosion
  • Disconnected habitats for wildlife that rely on natural land and water corridors
  • Exotic invasive species that can displace native species and degrade habitat 
  • A lack of recreational access in some places



The Root River Watershed Restoration Plan, completed in July of 2014, builds from the 2007 Regional Water Quality Management Plan Update for the Greater Milwaukee Watersheds, prepared by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The planning effort was led by Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network and Sweet Water (S.E. Wisconsin Watersheds Trust) with assistance from the River Alliance of Wisconsin and UW-Cooperative Extension.
The Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission was contracted to develop the Plan and SEWRPC staff began the work in July 2011. The Plan includes recommendations to be implemented over a five-year period following its completion in July of 2014.

A stakeholder group has been meeting since May 2010. In meetings held in 2010 and 2011 and with two online surveys, participants were asked to identify the major issues regarding the management of the watershed and to prioritize the issues. The four focus areas for the Plan included water quality, recreational access and use, habitat conditions and flooding.



The Root River Watershed Restoration Plan has been adopted by five municipalities and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, whom reside in the watershed. Adopters of the plan include:

  • Milwaukee County
  • Racine County
  • Village of Mount Pleasant
  • Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
  • City of Greenfield
  • Town of Dover
  • City of Racine



In 2016, Root-Pike WIN begun implementing the Root River Watershed Restoration Plan. Implementation includes the planning, design and construction of both municipal and private landowner projects. Root-Pike WIN’s role is to serve as educator and facilitator of the plan’s recommendations.

For more information about the Pike River planning and implementation, contact Dave Giordano, Executive Director, at .