Menomonee River Fish Habitat   7 comments

The wrecking ball has started swinging in the Menomonee River in Milwaukee this week, removing a 1,100 foot concrete channel that prevented fish from passing upstream. This work follows in the footsteps of major dam removal projects up and down the Milwaukee River that have allowed for fish and wildlife habitat restoration.

There are salmon and steelhead runs in the Menomonee River, but they’re stopped short upon reaching the concrete channel because the currents are too swift for them to swim through successfully. Restoration of the channel back to a more natural state will allow fish to explore 17 miles of water upstream, all the way up to another man made barrier, the Lepper Dam, in Menomonee Falls.


The flow of water has been redirected and is being pumped around it. The Wisconsin Ave. bridge is in the background. The pipes carrying the water around this section are at right and left. - Image credit: Michael Sears

The flow of water has been redirected and is being pumped around it. The Wisconsin Ave. bridge is in the background. The pipes carrying the water around this section are at right and left. – Image credit: Michael Sears

The next step is for communities like Menomonee Falls and Grafton to recognize that removing obsolete dams and restoring natural rapids and falls can enhance their communities in many ways, including tourism dollars from fisherman chasing migrating fish.

Erik Helm, the Fishing Manager at Orvis in Glendale, Wisconsin has eloquently written about what could happen in either of these towns if only their residents would look back to what existed before the mill ponds.

Imagine a place like West Bend becoming a spawning habitat for steelhead. Imagine the reinvigorated riverway, no longer smelly and stale but clear-running and full of wild things. East and West, communities are working to tear down old dams, restoring beautiful, historic rivers for the enjoyment of all. Milwaukee is doing it, and yeah, Grafton and Menomonee Falls can do it too.



7 responses to “Menomonee River Fish Habitat

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  1. I live within walking distance of this, and I’m down there several times a week. are you from Milwaukee?

    • Hi Nate,

      I live in Madison and have spent most of my time in the Driftless fishing for Brook and Brown Trout. But, Milwaukee, Sheboygan, and the Brule River all beckon when the weather cools!

      Living within walking distance, I’ll bet you’re excited to see these improvements to the Menomonee River!


  2. The work on the Milwaukee river is encouraging. Not only for fishing, but for the general aesthetic of the city. Removal of the concrete lined sections will make it safer too, as they become quite dangerous when the river flow is heavy and children are prone to play along it’s banks. I’m not optimistic about the dams in Menomonee Falls and Grafton being removed any time soon. Not much thinking there beyond narrow interests. And it’s a shame, as those waterways could be the envy of the rest of the country is they were allowed to flow free once again.


    • Yep, I agree it’s encouraging and exciting. I think changes like removing 100-year-old dams take time. But there is a sea-change happening all around the country and Wisconsin is a part of it. I think it’ll happen. Letting a river run free is cheaper than repairing an old dam, and if there’s one thing communities don’t have right now, it’s money to throw around.

  3. I’m glad for this post. Freshwater river ways are such fundamental features of a healthy landscape. Channelized sections introduce a uniformity that living systems just have a hard time dealing with.

    The restoration of “soft” banks allows for the subtle alterations in speed, clarity, depth, and discharge that are necessary for the creatures that evolved there over millennia. A river is a living system, and by living I mean animate, it is characterized by it’s movement and ever changing shape.

    A concrete channel is just not a sound proposition over a long period.

    Milwaukeeans will one day be able to recognize, for themselves, what freeing the river from these restraints will bring back to the water, the riverbank, and the wider community supported by it.

    There will be so many positives that come from this, most of which will go unnoticed by folks to transient to notice, that they will be seen as nothing more than divine providence. So we should laud the people and organizations that bring these acts to fruition.

    I can’t wait to see this stuff happen!

    Really cool Tom.

  4. 8lb trout recently caught in the actual waterfalls below the Lepper dam. I am looking to carry hand tied flies in my gallery.

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