Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Op Ed

Let the Fish Run Free

Let’s move to create fish passage at the Kletzsch Park dam.

By - Dec 3rd, 2019 05:45 pm
Kletzsch Park river access project rendering

Kletzsch Park river access project rendering

At Milwaukee Riverkeeper, we pride ourselves on being the voice of the rivers. And if Milwaukee’s rivers could talk, they would probably scream, “let us flow free.” As river protectors, we take our job seriously to ensure our shared resource will be swimmable, fishable and drinkable for our children and our children’s children. We are at a pivotal moment in the history of water in Milwaukee.  Momentum and energy is building to prioritize the work to clean up historically contaminated parts of our rivers and Estuary through EPA’s Area of Concern program. This could mean a serious federal investment to achieve cleaner rivers and healthier communities.

The proposed fish passage at Kletzsch Park is a generational opportunity to move native fish upstream from Lake Michigan past the last man-made barrier to their passage in Milwaukee County, the Kletzsch Dam. Many of our native fish can’t jump over barriers, and can’t swim upstream through intense flows created by dams and other obstructions. In addition, many native fish, such as northern pike, require access to vegetated wetlands for spawning, few of which exist along the Milwaukee River in Milwaukee County. Allowing fish to reach high quality spawning habitat upstream is essential to improve the health and viability of our fish populations.

Providing a fish passage structure at Kletzsch Dam also provides connectivity to the significant restoration work and improvements made upstream by the Ozaukee County Fish Passage Program, which has removed several major dams, built a fish passage around the Mequon-Thiensville Dam, and addressed hundreds of smaller fish passage barriers. This type of river restoration opportunity does not present itself often, and it is rare that scientists, elected officials, government agencies, community groups, and funding sources all come together around a project –we may not get this chance again.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper is committed to a vision of free flowing rivers, and was the main proponent to remove the Estabrook Dam, which was finally removed in spring of 2018 following a decade long fight. We have also advocated for the removal of 10+ other dams in the Milwaukee River Watershed. Many have questioned why we aren’t lobbying for removal of the Kletzsch Dam. We agree that dam removal would be our first choice to addressing this fish passage impediment, and would likely be the most effective and cheapest option. However, one of the lessons we have learned in nearly 25 years of this work, is that achieving community consensus usually means compromise – there is often not a clear winner and all sides don’t get everything they want.  While providing a fish passage around the dam would not fully restore the natural ecology to the river, it would allow us to retain the “Kletzsch Falls” that many in the community love, while still achieving our vision of fishable rivers for everyone.

If we do not grasp this opportunity and move forward, we will lose more than just fish passage – we’ll also miss out on another important opportunity to connect more folks to our river through an improved portage, access points, and accessible paths. This will not only protect paddlers, fishermen, and other river users, but will ensure that all community members can recreate in our parks and enjoy our rivers safely. After all, who actually owns our rivers? We all do.


Milwaukee Riverkeeper is a science-based advocacy organization working for swimmable, fishable rivers throughout the Milwaukee River Basin.

More about the Kletzsch Dam Fish Passage Plan

Read more about Kletzsch Dam Fish Passage Plan here

One thought on “Op Ed: Let the Fish Run Free”

  1. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Yes, ” let the fish run free.” I applaud the plan to create a fish passage at K, Park. Northern Pike are majestic. We need more of them and other species in the Milwaukee River.

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