The South Milwaukee Mill Pond/Lagoon is more than the one of the most beautiful and serene places in the Milwaukee County park system. It is also an important part of South Milwaukee's heritage and it is dear to the heart of generations of South Milwaukee residents who grew up ice skating on the pond. The dam and pond are listed on the United States Register of Historic Places and on the Milwaukee County register of historic places.
The pond and dam also have an important environmental function. The 13 miles of the Oak Creek drain a 28-square-mile watershed in six communities in southern Milwaukee County. The pond is the only settling basin in the watershed. It prevents tons of silt and algal producing nutrients from flowing into Lake Michigan. Without it, the Grant Park swimming beach would likely be permanently closed by algal. Bender Park could also be affected and Lake Michigan environmentalists could come knocking at our door about the dumping the silt in the lake.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would like to see either the Mill Pond dam removed or fish ladders provided to allow the fish in Lake Michigan to go upstream. That might be worthwhile for native Lake Michigan fish, but there aren't many of them left. The salmon planted by the DNR can't reproduce in the creek, but they will try. They will go upstream, spawn and die. Several miles of dead fish in residential areas is not a good idea. Beyond that, the other invasive species in the lake could also enter the creek, including sea lampreys, mussels, and someday - we hope not - Asian Carp. The dam protects all six cities in the watershed from the problem species in Lake Michigan. A fishing pond for pan fish and perch would be a much better plan.
The silt in the pond and needed dam repairs are maintenance issues for county parks. They are not part of stormwater management issues, as has been suggested. The county's financial problems are well known, but the issues in question could be addressed by state and federal grants the same as the new $24 million park in the Menomonee Valley or other environmental projects around the state. There are many who would like to duck this issue by removing the dam, but that would probably create more problems than it solves.