Project Description

Aquatic habitats within Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region have changed dramatically over the past century. Changes include increased loads of nutrients, sediment and contaminants, altered hydrology, and exotic species introductions. These changes are continuing as new exotic species enter the Great Lakes basin, land use patterns are altered, cities and industries continue to grow, and climate conditions fluctuate.

Detecting changes and understanding the mechanisms that cause change requires monitoring of water quality conditions. Monitoring provides information on the impact of new events, such as exotic species invasions, and it provides and indication of the efficacy of management strategies. A current impediment to management in the Great Lakes basin is the lack of timely data on water quality conditions. One of the objectives of WATERbase is to provide timely water quality data collected through monitoring and research activities in the Milwaukee region. In addition, WATERbase provides a dataset of historic water quality conditions in Lake Michigan and its tributary rivers in the Milwaukee region.

Limnologist at computer

Other intended beneficiaries of these data include researchers, educators, and the general public. Students can access historic and near-real-time data to observe how lakes and rivers change over different time scales, and to gain insight into the linkages between physical, chemical and biological processes in rivers and large lakes. Researchers can compare data collected near Milwaukee with other rivers and other parts of Lake Michigan, to determine how the Lake Michigan ecosystem functions on a large scale. Data on meteorological conditions and lake temperatures will be of interest to fishers and recreational boaters.

Geographic Coverage

The current dataset includes data for Lake Michigan waters in the Milwaukee region, the Milwaukee Harbor, and several rivers that enter Lake Michigan through the Milwaukee Harbor. Stations in the lake range from nearshore to a 100-meter deep pelagic monitoring station approximately 19 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Milwaukee. Within Milwaukee Harbor, samples are collected in both the northern and southern halves of the outer harbor, and at the river junction in the inner harbor. Data are provided for a number of river stations on the Milwaukee River, Menomonee River, and Kinnickinnic River.

Lake Michigan Bathymetry Map

Data Types, Sources, and Temporal Span

The current database contains data from four main sources. The Great Lakes WATER Institute (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) has been conducting a Lake Michigan monitoring program since 1998. Data collected as part of this program include water nutrient measurements (nitrogen, phosphorus, silica), algal pigments, and regular CTD casts (conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, water clarity, pH, oxidation-reduction potential, algal fluorescence). In addition to the monthly monitoring program, near-real-time data are collected from a pelagic monitoring buoy. These data include meteorological measurements and twice-daily water column profiles of temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, and algal fluorescence.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has a long series of data for a number of rivers within the Milwaukee River watershed, as well as the Milwaukee Harbor and the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan immediately adjacent to the harbor. A data set from 1975 to 1995 has been supplemented with yearly updates. The MMSD dataset contains a large number of variables, including nutrients, metals, major ions, BOD, fecal coliform counts, and algal pigments. Sampling frequency is biweekly or monthly during non-ice conditions.

Dr. Tim Ehlinger (UWM Biology Department), has been conducting a river monitoring program in several Milwaukee area rivers since 1998. A subset of Dr. Ehlinger’s dataset for Underwood creek is contained in this database. Data include water temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and turbidity.

The Linnwood Water Treatment Plant draws water from Lake Michigan. Since 1939, the plant has made daily measurements of intake water quality, resulting in a valuable record of historic conditions in Lake Michigan. Variables include temperature, pH, and turbidity. An additional dataset containing records of phytoplankton numbers and species composition is currently being processed for inclusion in the database.

Although there is a general awareness of these changes, their impact at the ecosystem scale is not well understood. For example, little is known about how changes in tributary water quality affect water quality and the flora and fauna in the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan. While a significant amount of data exist for tributaries and nearshore waters, the disparate nature of these data, along with difficulties in data access, have prevented a holistic approach to understanding temporal dynamics at the ecosystem scale.

Currently there are a number of institutions collecting information on the physical, chemical and biological properties of riverine and lacustrine systems in the Milwaukee River watershed. We propose here to organize and consolidate data collected by three institutions that are collecting environmental data along a hydrologic gradient from the watershed headwaters, through the Milwaukee River and the Milwaukee Harbor to the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan. In addition, we propose to develop database applications that will facilitate data querying and data access using stand-alone and network applications.


Dr. Harvey Bootsma
Great Lakes WATER Institute
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
600 E. Greenfield Ave.
Milwaukee WI 53204
Tel: (414) 382-1717
FAX: (414) 382-1705
Dr. Russell Cuhel
Great Lakes WATER Institute
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Dr. Arthur Brooks
Center for Great Lakes Studies
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Dr. Tim Ehlinger
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Mr. Eric Waldmer
Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
Joyce Witebsky
Center for Urban Initiatives and Research
John Zastrow
Center for Great Lakes Studies
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee


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