Milwaukee River Watershed Conservation Partnership Healthy Soils | Clean Waters | Smart Business


Initiated in Fall of 2016, the Milwaukee River Watershed Conservation Partnership (MRWCP) began a five-year effort to build the capacity of watershed stakeholders within the Milwaukee River watershed to increase the support of healthy soils, clean water, and smart business. Led by a steering committee, partners are utilizing $1.5 million of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funding made available through Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs to offset the costs of conservation implementation in the watershed. Twenty-four organizations have pledged support to the partnership and contribute time and resources toward the achievement of program goals.

2017 corn residue increases soil health in 2018 amongst the 20” row no-tilled soybeans.
In 2016 watershed partners set out to achieve three goals:
  1. Promote conservation practices along priority streams and rivers to assist the watershed community to improve soil health, water quality, and reduce flood risk.
  2. Permanently protect productive agricultural land to support and sustain the regional economy.
  3. Evaluate performance of conservation practices on soil health and water quality; measure impact through demonstrations, outreach, and public engagement.
Bossie Family children playing in green pasture


As of January 2019, partners have contributed $2 million toward the project. NRCS has obligated $460,500 of the $1.5 million to the early-adopter landowners who have designed or installed practices, or are protecting their working land for agricultural use in perpetuity. In fiscal year 2017 and 2018 much educational and administrative planning work was completed which will lead to more conservation work installed. Projects are being designed, and in some cases, incentive and compensation payments to landowners through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) are scheduled for 2019 and 2020.

Ross Bishop, Cedar Creek Farmers member, explains to local farmers the “ins and outs” of his no-till grain drill.
After two years of working together the watershed partners have achieved the following:

Events and Outreach: 2,995 acres of agricultural conservation practices installed, which include cover crops, grassed waterways, and filter strips. Outreach was a high priority in 2017 and 2018. Increased outreach and more coordination among Ozaukee and Washington Counties’ Land and Water Conservation staff, NRCS, and UW-Extension have supported more conservation installation, especially among operators participating in producer-led watershed protection efforts. Conservation practice installation is expected to increase as soil health information is shared among producers in their communities. Outcomes of the practices will be aggregated in 2019 through SnapPlus modeling.

Visiting guest speaker Ray Archuleta at a Clean Farm Family Field Day Event - October 4, 2018.

Agricultural Easements: Two Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) were protected in 2018 through The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s (the District) Working Soils® Program. Cost-share was made available through NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). By the end of 2021, the programs are scheduled to preserve eight more agricultural easements.

Easement Activity Breakdown
  • 2 easements closed in December 2018
  • 3 easements were approved by NRCS for closing in 2019
  • 3 Conservation Plans were completed with easement contracts
  • 4 proposed Conservation Plans are in draft with NRCS for future easements
A prairie contour buffer strip was planted on Ross Bishop's farm with the help of Sand County Foundation & Pheasants Forever.


Producer-led watershed groups were initiated by farmers and County Land and Water Management Departments (LWMD) to engage farmers and address conservation opportunities that promote soil health and improved water quality. The producer-led groups are made possible with administrative and fiscal management assistance from the County Land and Water Management Departments they work with, as well as through grant support from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), and the Fund for Lake Michigan (FFLM). The Milwaukee River Watershed Clean Farm Families (CFF) and Cedar Creek Farmers (CCF) local incentive funding is available to farmers exploring conservation measures. Fundraising efforts are coordinated by MRWCP partners, which include the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

‘Farmer Ross’ Bishop teaching soil health basics.
The Milwaukee River Watershed Clean Farm Families

The Milwaukee River Watershed Clean Farm Families producer-led group came together in 2016 by area farmers. Ozaukee County LWMD staff provided assistance in grant application to DATCP Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant. FFLM provided matching grant support to achieve greater outreach, establishment of conservation demonstration sites, pilot practice installation, innovative equipment rental and demonstration, event organization, and peer-to-peer information sharing. Eight founding members of CFF received training in December of 2017 through DATCP’s Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants Annual Workshop.

Members of the Milwaukee River Watershed Clean Farm Families group. Left to right: Bob Roden, Mike Paulus, Joe Roden, Ken Falk, Jim Melichar, Dave Brunquell. Missing: Neal Maciejewski and Marvin Kolbach.
Cedar Creek Farmers- Improving Land for Cleaner Waters

The CCF producer-led group was organized in 2017. CCF was awarded a DATCP grant for 2018 with matching funds from FFLM. Both CCF and neighboring CFF coordinate outreach efforts to encourage farmer attendance at educational events and to experiment with conservation on their farms. Both watershed producer groups participated in the 2017 WI Cover Crop Tour by hosting a cover crop demonstration site, where they explained how they determined which conservation practices best suited their land.

Brian Peters, pictured with the Cedar Creek Farmers, showcases his no-tilled pumpkins into rolled cereal rye. Back left to right: Al Schmidt, Stephanie Egner (LCD), Stan Miller. Front left to right: Ross Bishop, Paul Sebo (LCD), Brian Peters. Missing: Terry Kohl and Lee Kissinger.
2018 Cedar Creek Farmers Activities
  • 7 CCF meetings
  • 2 ‘farmer-to-farmer’ lunch & learn field days and a fall bus tour
  • Washington County hired an additional staff person supported by NFWF, FFLM, and the District
  • Washington County submitted a Polk Springs stream bank project application to FFLM, which was awarded grant funding to support restorative stabilization work in 2019-2020.
  • CCF contacted over 40 producers/landowners in the Cedar Creek watershed
  • Preliminary design was completed on 4,010 linear feet of waterway
Cedar Creek Farmers – Spring “Lunch & Learn”. Conventional vs. no-till soil erosion demonstration. Farmers Al Schmidt & Ross Bishop assist Mike Patin (NRCS).
Making Allies for Healthier Communities

The Making Allies for Healthier Communities collaborative aims to protect prime and unique farm land and place an ACEP-ALE on hydric agricultural land for shared use through the District’s Working Soils® Program. This collaborative effort was established to address 1) affordable farmland ownership, 2) proximity to urban markets, and 3) land-rent microeconomics and succession planning concerns among the Hmong farming community that serves Milwaukee’s north-side urban farmers markets. Fondy Food Center, a Milwaukee farmers’ market group, and their cooperating farmers received grant assistance through the Mott Foundation and are working with the Land Trust Alliance and The Conservation Fund.

Hmong farmers selling their produce at local farmers markets.


Two-year baseline surface water quality monitoring is underway for 2018 and 2019 at 25 sites and will be conducted by The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s contractor Great Lakes Environmental Center. The final report covering 2018 and 2019 data will be available in March 2020. Infiltration meters are also being used in some watershed areas to assess soil moisture conditions. Farmers are independently sampling soils to assess soil health as part of their nutrient management.

Rainfall Simulator shows the effects of soil management practices over time(tillage vs. no-till, bare ground vs. residue cover).
Welcome to the farm!


The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District staff extend their appreciation to contributing partners who have made the collective watershed outcomes possible:
  • Cedar Creek Farmers (CCF)
  • Country Visions Cooperative
  • Fondy Food Market
  • Fund for Lake Michigan (FFLM)
  • Helena Agri-Enterprises, LLC
  • Land Trust Alliance
  • Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
  • Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (the District)
  • Milwaukee River Watershed Clean Farm Families (CFF)
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • Ozaukee County Land and Water Management Department (LWMD)
  • Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT)
  • Sand County Foundation
  • Pheasants Forever
  • The Conservation Fund
  • University of Wisconsin Extension Cooperative
  • Washington County Land and Water Conservation Division (LWCD)
  • Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP)
  • Wisconsin Farmers Union
Created By
Karen Nenahlo - Senior Project Planner | Lindsey Walker - The Conservation Fund | Stephanie Egner - Conservation Technician


Photos by Lindsey Walker and Ivan LaBianca

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