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Milwaukee County considers moving South Shore Beach due to chronic water quality issues

Bay View’s South Shore Beach has been plagued by water quality problems for years that resulted in frequent beach closures to avoid health risks, and now Milwaukee County is considering its relocation.

Moving the lakefront beach could cost several million dollars, but planners hope most of those funds will come from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or other non-county sources.

The South Shore Beach consistently ranks among the worst beaches in the nation and the Great Lakes. Recent studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences have shown that stormwater runoff, poor circulation, and waterfowl excrement are among the biggest contributors to the poor water quality of the beach area.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and DNR previously awarded $350,000 to Milwaukee County to study water quality and options for relocating the beach. County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic hosted the September 10 meeting to share the latest developments in planning for possible beach relocation and to seek public input.

“We have invested millions in the renaissance of South Shore Beach, and everyone can see and feel the difference. The park is our regional treasure,” said Supervisor Dimitrijevic. “I am hopeful that this possible investment with state DNR funding to relocate the beach will help us open a clean, safe beach for everyone to enjoy.”

Supervisor Dimitrijevic has made improving water quality at South Shore Beach a top priority since she was first elected in 2004. The County completed millions of dollars of infrastructure enhancements in 2017. The investments were expected to improve water quality and reduce the number of beach closures, and provided for upgrades to various amenities.

Among several initiatives over the past 13 years, including upgrades to the pavilion, Milwaukee County has invested $2.8 million since 2015 for green infrastructure improvements, and other renovations to amenities at South Shore Park.

For the 2015 Milwaukee County budget, Supervisor Dimitrijevic set aside $1.6 million for South Shore Park improvements, and later proposed an additional $1.2 million investment in the 2017 budget.

Option 1

Option 2

This alternative provides a beach closer to the breakwater opening, where wave energy and water circulation is highest. The proposed jetties were sized to provide a beach area that would match the existing dry beach area (~1 acre, slightly smaller than a football field), which was one of the main constrains that informed the design.

This alternative features a beach closer to the existing amenities (restrooms, beer garden), and adjacent to a Terraced Lawn more central to park and pavilion users.


  • Similar to existing beach size
  • Aligns with existing breakwater opening


  • Further from off-street parking
  • Further from South Shore Terrace


  • Centrally located to South Shore Terrace
  • Similar beach size
  • Closer to parking
  • Maintains existing rock beach


  • Circulation is less than alternatives 1 and 4
  • Potential for sand to be deposited at South Shore Terrace and on the Oak Leaf Trail

Option 3

Option 4

This alternative was developed to create a narrower groomed beach that extends further south, closer to the breakwater entrance, while still providing beach area in front of the pavilion.

Alternative 4 is located in the same area as Alternative 1 where the water circulation is better, although it features smaller structures. Alternative 4 was developed in order to reduce impacts to the lakebed and reduce construction costs. This alternative resulted in a recreational beach area reduced by about 40% when compared to Alternative 1 (approximately 50,000 sf vs. 30,000 sf).


  • Centrally located
  • Access to South Shore Terrace
  • Views from Oak Leaf Trail


  • Reduced circulation for North Beach compared to alternatives 1 and 4
  • Potential for sand to be deposited at South Shore Terrace and on the Oak Leaf Trail


  • Centrally located
  • Access to South Shore Terrace
  • Reduced cost


  • Further from off-street parking
  • Further from South Shore Terrace
  • Reduced beach area compared to other alternatives
© Photo

Lee Matz

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