Date of Award

December 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Amanda I Seligman

Committee Members

Joseph Rodriguez, Marcus Filippello, Nan Kim


community, Milwaukee, public, River, Water, watershed


My dissertation examines government and nongovernment entities’ attempts to restore and protect the use and health of the Milwaukee River and its watershed from 1960 to 2000. Under Mayor Henry Maier’s leadership, Milwaukee worked to reclaim the urban riverway to stimulate economic growth. However, state and federal representatives, after the passage of the 1965 Water Quality Act, demanded that the city government prioritize updating the combined storm and sewer system to lessen pollution in the Milwaukee River. At the same time, other groups worked to save rural areas from unplanned development and further degradation of the waterway. Influential groups included the Riveredge Nature Center members, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), the Milwaukee River Restoration Council, and the Milwaukee River Revitalization Council. As these groups debated the best course of action, they recognized the benefits of a watershed approach to restoring the riverway’s health. However, arguments continued as the communities that purported a public interest in the waterway were often identified by boundaries that did not coincide with the watershed’s area. My research contributes to historical scholarship by investigating how these groups came to recognize the importance of a watershed approach to addressing water pollution problems and protecting private property from flood damage. However, searching for a shared public interest that reflected urban, suburban, and rural perspectives of the watershed’s future was more elusive as economic, social, and historical understandings of the watershed continued to divide people.Primary source materials were gathered through newspaper articles and archival sources. The Milwaukee Public Library funds the online storage of the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel. Archival material was located through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Archives Department and the Wisconsin Historical Center. Also, I utilized materials stored by SEWRPC, Riveredge Nature Center, and the River Revitalization Foundation.