Stormwater management, flood control, and surface water quality represent issues and problems that can only be properly addressed within an areawide planning framework involving the cooperative efforts of the local governments which are contained wholly or partly within natural watersheds. Moreover, unless properly dealt with, these problems can be intensified by urbanization. SEWRPC began to address flooding and water quality issues shortly after its creation in 1960. The City of Racine sustained serious and costly flooding during 1960 and turned to SEWRPC for help in bringing neighboring communities and counties together to properly address these issues. Thus began a long-term comprehensive watershed planning program by SEWRPC. That program produced comprehensive—land use, park and open space, flood control, and water quality—watershed plans for most of the major watersheds of the Region as shown here.
These legacy comprehensive watershed plans include one for the Root River watershed adopted in 1966, one for the Fox River watershed adopted in 1970, one for the Milwaukee River watershed adopted in 1972, one for the Menomonee River watershed adopted in 1977, one for the Kinnickinnic River watershed adopted in 1979, one for the Pike River watershed adopted in 1983, one for the Oak Creek watershed adopted in 1986, and one for the Des Plaines River watershed adopted in 2003. Some of these watershed plans were amended in succeeding years. The three plans for the watersheds that drain to the Milwaukee harbor—Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic—were supplemented by a comprehensive Milwaukee harbor estuary plan in 1987.
While dated, a number of recommendations flowing from these plans remain highly relevant today. For example, one of the key recommendations in the comprehensive plan for the Fox River watershed, dating back to 1970, involves the clearance over time of about 180 residences located in extreme flood-prone areas in Kenosha County near the Wisconsin/Illinois state line. Acting on that recommendation, Kenosha County has been gradually buying and removing homes from the floodplain and continues that effort to the present time, contracting with SEWRPC to manage the program. About 90 residential structures remain in this hazardous floodplain area.