Land use changes in Southeast Wisconsin have greatly diminished the ecological health of rivers and riparian corridors. Stream, wetland, and upland natural habitats are fragmented and degraded, local flooding is exacerbated to the detriment of farmland, homes, and infrastructure, and water quality is diminished, both in the Milwaukee River basin and also downstream along the Lake Michigan coastline. Many rivers and streams were historically dredged and straightened and wetlands destroyed and drained to increase available land and increase agricultural production. Often, the soils excavated in digging the ditch were cast to the sides of the channel, creating levees on both sides that isolate the channel from the floodplain. The lack of recurring overbank flows prohibit floodplain building and the former wetland corridors lack suitable overbank flood flows to sustain a diverse wetland plant and wildlife community. In addition, stream channels are left over-widened with unconsolidated substrate and very poor habitat conditions for fish and wildlife.
The Ecological Prioritization GIS Tool is used to develop integrated prioritization maps for restoration and preservation to improve the ecological, water quality and hydrologic conditions within streams and riparian corridors, particularly for native fish and wildlife. Tool outputs have identified multiple high-priority projects for maximum ecological benefit in Ozaukee County.
Specifically, the Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Department is completing large scale, comprehensive, holistic habitat restoration projects on Ulao Creek (approximately 2.5 miles), Mole Creek (approximately 1.5 miles), and the Little Menomonee River (approximately 0.25 miles). Construction, restoration, and environmental monitoring activities at all locations are ongoing.