Our projects improve water quality, restore fish and wildlife habitat, reduce flooding, establish new public parks, enhance recreation, create jobs and build the quality of life that makes Wisconsin a great place to call home and do business. Since 2011 we have awarded 118 grants totaling nearly $11 million to community groups, nonprofits, and local governments throughout the region, from Kenosha to Door County and everywhere in between.
Our impact is already showing — not just in a healthier watershed but in a stronger regional economy. Our project partners have leveraged an additional $35 million in public and private investments and created the equivalent of 480 full-time jobs — jobs that support families and prepare our workforce to lead the way in smart, innovative water resource management. Our partners' efforts to clean up riverfront areas and reclaim urban green space have raised property values by an estimated $45 million in the neighborhoods where we work. Read more about the economic impact of our projects here.
What We Do
A remedy for flooding and water pollution in the Menomonee Valley
We help communities transform forgotten industrial sites into vibrant public spaces. For decades, the Menomonee Valley was a no-go zone. Abandoned factories and decrepit railyards sat unused on top of century-old waste and fill. Today, the Menomonee Valley is home to growing businesses as well as Three Bridges Park which features 24 acres of parkland, two miles of trails, improved access to a cleaner river and an outdoor classroom connected with a new branch of the Urban Ecology Center. We contributed funds to restore a half-mile stretch of degraded riverbank. Now bioswales and native plants filter and treat stormwater that once flowed straight into the river and carried pollution to the lake.
Fish populations make a comeback in Southeast Wisconsin
Sturgeon, steelhead and salmon are making a comeback in Southeast Wisconsin because of projects we have supported. Just eight miles upstream from Lake Michigan in Kenosha County's Petrifying Springs Park, the Pike River was blocked by an obsolete dam that was built in the 1930s to irrigate the nearby golf course. The dam prevented upstream fish migration and worsened the flooding that often forced the County to close the park after heavy rains. The Fund for Lake Michigan supported Kenosha County in removing the dam and restoring the streambank. As a result, 22 more miles of the Pike River are open to fish migration and the park keeps the gates open all year.
Beaches reopen, creating new economic activity
Restored beaches are a goldmine for economic growth and quality of life. Less than a decade ago, Racine's North Beach was often closed due to poor water quality and unhealthy swimming conditions. The community came together behind a massive restoration effort, and today North Beach is a nationally recognized destination where visitors generate $7 million annually for the local economy. Building off the successes at North Beach and Milwaukee's Bradford Beach, the Fund is now helping to restore another dozen impaired beaches along Wisconsin's Lake Michigan shoreline.
Green infrastructure investment reduces runoff, controls flooding and improves water quality
Investing in green infrastructure improves water quality, reduces flooding, and drives innovation. We support projects that use products and technologies designed and built in Southeast Wisconsin. We partnered with the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee to create a green stormwater infrastructure system at the Reed Street Yards, a redevelopment along the Menomonee River that will treat all its stormwater onsite. Using PaveDrain, a porous paving system built by a Greenfield company, the project demonstrates a cost-effective way for cities to manage stormwater and decrease runoff and flooding — while also showcasing a locally-produced technology.
Riverside bluff restoration improves public access in Racine
We help cities revitalize their downtown areas with healthy urban rivers at the forefront. In Racine, a restored Root River is the centerpiece of the RootWorks redevelopment plan. Riverfront bike trails, outdoor education, improved water quality and enhanced public access will transform more than a mile of the river. The project will be crowned by a riverwalk lined with new housing and businesses, including a revamped Machinery Row. The Fund for Lake Michigan has committed over $250,000 in support for RootWorks' green infrastructure and riverside bluff restoration plans.
A return to the original landscape reduces flooding and filters run off
By supporting wetland restorations, we help communities clean their water and prevent flooding naturally. Wetlands have disappeared from the region as farmers drained low-lying areas for planting crops. This allowed floodwaters and farm runoff to flow downstream into the lake. But in the City of Mequon, where farms and residential areas are close neighbors, the Mequon Nature Preserve has been restoring nearly a square mile of former farmland back to native wetland and hardwood forest. We are supporting their efforts to remove invasive species from the forest and bring back the wetland, which will reduce flooding in the nearby neighborhoods and waterways and filter runoff from surrounding farms. All these efforts can help to reduce the dangerous and unsightly algal blooms that can make the lake off-limits for recreation.
To browse all the projects we have funded, visit our Grant History page.