Removal of the Estabrook Dam is a win-win for homeowners, taxpayers and the environment


In the early 1900s, city planners wanted to control rivers, and the Estabrook Dam was one of many dams built on the Milwaukee River. Now we know it is much safer and better for the environment to return waterways to their natural state. Dams in Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties have been removed, and the river is healthier where these dams once stood.

But the Estabrook Dam remains because politics has come into play. A few dozen highly vocal homeowners who benefit from an unnatural lake the dam creates – at great cost to the environment and County taxpayers – have worked with their County Supervisor to hold the County hostage. This vocal minority expects County taxpayers to spend millions of dollars to repair and maintain the Estabrook Dam. They've convinced the County Board of Supervisors, who voted to spend your tax dollars to fix this dam.

Here are the facts

The hundreds of residents who live within the Estabrook Dam flood plain are at higher risk for dangerous, property-destroying floods because of the dam. These residents must purchase expensive flood insurance required by Federal FEMA regulations. They’re bearing the burden of this harmful structure.

Rebuilding this dam is a fiscal nightmare. The Estabrook Dam will cost more than $6 million to repair and maintain. This money comes directly from local taxpayers and the County’s budget. On the other hand, the cost to remove the dam is $1.7 million and would likely cost County taxpayers considerably less, because the demolition qualifies for Federal and philanthropic grants. The cost of repairing the dam is just the beginning of the amount of money we’ll need to pay to keep this dam. Because the Milwaukee River carries sediment and debris in its flow, the unnatural lake the Estabrook Dam creates must be routinely dredged and cleaned. And a rebuilt dam only has a 20 year life expectancy. The dollar signs keep adding up.

The Estabrook Dam is an environmental hazard. It pollutes our water and harms natural habitats for fish and wildlife, including several at-risk species. From an environmental standpoint, absolutely nothing good comes from the existence of this dam. It only causes problems and continued degradation of the Milwaukee River.

Milwaukee County built Estabrook Dam in 1937 to elevate water levels beyond the river's natural depth and create a recreational area in Lincoln Park. As a result, the dam created an artificial lake for a handful of homeowners in Glendale, flooding what had once been wetlands bordering the river.

The Estabrook Dam creates dangerous conditions and is a public nuisance. During heavy storms, the dam can create a torrential current that has the power to seriously injure or kill. When closed, the dam is impassable by kayakers and canoeists, who must portage their craft through slippery terrain. And the dam structures collect trash and tree limbs, which creates an unsafe and unsightly environment.

The areas outlined in red will flood during what are called “100-year storms,” which actually happen much more frequently - we've had four in the past seven years. The areas outlined in yellow would be affected by so-called “500-year storms,” which are increasingly more likely due to climate change. During a severe thunderstorm, water levels can rise one-and-a-half feet in these areas, flooding yards, homes and businesses.

It's time to take it out, and it's now or never

Estabrook Dam impoundment

Estabrook Dam impoundment

What we get when we remove the dam

Millions of dollars added back into the County budget, which is money local taxpayers won’t have to come up with.

A much healthier, significantly less polluted river. 

Reduced flood risk and likely reduction of insurance costs for homeowners in the Estabrook Dam floodplain.

Increased property values as flood risk is abated and this stretch of river is returned to a much cleaner, more beautiful and natural habitat.

Restoration of the natural and wild aspect of the Milwaukee River in the Estabrook and Lincoln Park areas, which will significantly improve wildlife habitat and reduce wildlife death caused by the dam.

Significantly improved fish habitat and better fishing throughout the Milwaukee River. Our native fish species cannot get past the dam to swim upstream to spawn, and its removal will increase fish populations.

Improved paddling – during normal river levels, you’ll be able to kayak or canoe from West Bend to Lake Michigan.

A significant decrease in the force of currents during severe rainstorms, which increases human safety and decreases erosion along the river.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to help our Milwaukee River. It’s now or never - if this dam is rebuilt, we’re stuck with it for decades. Our river will suffer and we’ll all pay the price. We must remove this dam!