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About Us - Watershed Information

What is a watershed?
TurtleA watershed is the drainage system of a defined area. All runoff water, including rainfall and snowmelt, in our watershed flows into area streams, rivers, and eventually into Lake Michigan. As water travels it picks up pollutants and sediment from many sources. How we build and maintain our cities, towns, roads, farmland, and parkland all determine the quality of the Root-Pike Watershed. This is why erosion or pollution anywhere in the watershed affects the rivers and lakes. The Root-Pike Watershed is comprised of five smaller watersheds: Root River, Pike River, Pike Creek, Oak Creek and Wind Point. All of these watersheds drain to Lake Michigan.



The Root-Pike WatershedMap

The Root-Pike Watershed covers nearly 327 square miles of Southeastern Wisconsin. Over 200 miles of streams and tributaries have changed the landscape and have been changed over many years.

Water settled this region. Lake Michigan and the river systems that empty into Lake Michigan provided transportation and sustenance to Native Americans and early settlers. Now known for its urban features, this landscape was once covered with diverse woodlands, prairies, wetlands, streams and lakes.

Today the Root-Pike Watershed and their numerous tributaries meander their way through an increasingly urban landscape spread over four counties. Over 1.6 million residents from Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha Counties interact with and impact this watershed daily.


Recreation and wildlife abound within the watersheds. There are more than 38 city and county parks in this region, many along the rivers and Lake Michigan. Significant wildlife habitat is found at Chiwaukee Prairie, Petrifying Springs, River Bend Nature Center, and Whitnall Park.

Sections of the Root River are considered quality fisheries. In the spring and fall, migrating chinook salmon, coho salmon, brown trout, and rainbow trout can be observed at the Root River Steelhead facility in Lincoln Park in Racine. Two universities also share this watershed. Carthage College and UW-Parkside have unique watershed campuses.

Most of the watershed's surface waters are exposed to pollution from agricultural, urban, mound and septic disposal systems. Rain water carries sediment and pollutants from these sources to streams, rivers, and lakes.


Several sections of the Root-Pike Watershed are listed on the DNR's impaired river list for their poor water quality. Some sections qualify as warm water fisheries.

The watershed has suffered from sedimentation from construction sites and agricultural practices, channel alterations (straightening), nutrient enrichment, and stream bank erosion.

Drinking water in the watershed comes from Lake Michigan, private wells, and municipal groundwater aquifers. The two main groundwater concerns are contamination and over-usage.

*Information provided by DNR and SEWRPC.

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Planetary University