Dredging Cleans Up a River

Revitalizes Neighborhood

State and federal agencies joined forces to complete a $22 million cleanup project that resulted in the removal of 167,000 cubic yards of toxic mud from the bottom of the Kinnickinnic River, on Milwaukee’s south side.


Years of abuse and neglect caused a bend in the Kinnickinnic River to become a collection spot for toxic mud, garbage, sunken boats and other refuse. The accumulation of contaminated sediments and garbage made that part of the river unsightly and non-navigable. In the late 1990s, property owners and business leaders began lobbying for a cleanup of the filthy bend in the Kinnickinnic River. Over the course of several years, business leaders and local government officials joined forces with state and federal agencies to draft a cleanup plan. The goal was to create a more navigable river, spur the development of new waterfront businesses and revitalize the riverfront for the surrounding neighborhood.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Contaminated sediment
  • Congested and trash-filled waterways
  • Unsightly area


An excavator on a barge in a river.

Removing contaminated sediment, using the methods pictured here, help revitalize fish and wildlife habitat. Credit: Lynn Vaccaro Michigan Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

Over the course of four months in 2009, crews dredged 167,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river bottom. The dredging removed more than 14,000 pounds of toxic chemicals from the river, which flows into Lake Michigan. The dredging also restored safe navigation to the stretch of river that had long been avoided.The cleanup pumped new life into the riverfront community. An abandoned factory was razed to make way for a 40,000 square foot office complex and existing marinas added new docks and moorings. The cleanup increased property values along the river and gave rise to one of the Great Lakes’ most eccentric microbreweries—the Horny Goat Brewing Co. The brewery, which opened in 2009, includes a large patio that allows patrons to dine along the river; outdoor fire pits, sand volleyball courts and a concert stage. In 2010, the Web site OnMilwaukee.com declared the Horny Goat’s deck to be Milwaukee’s best patio. The Web site’s dining guide said the patio is often packed on summer nights and “the view of the river from just about anywhere on the patio is spectacular and worth a visit.”