Pike-Root Watershed

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Hydrologic Unit Code: 04040002

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Watershed Overview

The Pike-Root Watershed covers over 410 square miles and includes the subwatersheds of the Pike River, the Root River, Oak Creek, Racine Arbor, the Waukegan River, and Waxdale Creek. The watershed stretches from south of Milwaukee to North Chicago and includes the cities of Racine, Kenosha, and Waukegan. The watershed has over 113 miles of shoreline on the west side of Lake Michigan. The Waukegan River is the only river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan and Waukegan Harbor is listed as an Area of Concern.

50% of the watershed is used for agricultural purposes and 30% of the watershed is urbanized. The combined effects of the draining of the majority of the wetlands and stream channel manipulation have led to degraded water and habitat quality throughout the Pike-Root Basin.

The National Heritage Inventory has documented 16 endangered, 20 threatened, and 52 special concern plant and animal species and 17 rare aquatic and terrestrial species in the watershed. The Chiwaukee Prairie-Illinois Beach has been identified as an important landbird and raptor stopover site. The Nature Conservancy has also identified critical systems including Lakeplain Wet-Mesic Prairie, Mesic Sand Tallgrass Prairie, Interdunal Wetland, Black Oak/Lupine Barrens, and Midwest Dry-Mesic Sand Prairie at the beach.

Critical species identified in the watershed by the Nature Conservancy at the Chiwaukee Prairie-Illinois Beach include the Pale False Foxglove and the Prairie White-fringed Orchid. Other important species include Forked Aster, Henslow’s Sparrow, Karner Blue Butterfly, Kirkland’s Snake, and Silphium Borer Moth. Important ecosystems include:

  • Central Cordgrass Wet Prairie
  • Central Cordgrass Wet Sand Prairie
  • Central Mesic Tallgrass Prairie
  • Central Water Lily Aquatic Wetland
  • Cinquefoil-Sedge Prairie Fen
  • Great Lakes Beach
  • Great Lakes Beachgrass Dune
  • Lakeplain Wet Prairie
  • Midwest Dry Sand Prairie
  • Midwest Mixed Emergent Deep Marsh
  • Skunk Cabbage Seepage Meadow
  • Tussock Sedge Wet Meadow
  • Blazing Star Stem Borer Moth
Between 1996 and 2001, there has been a slight increase in developed land, farmland, and wetlands, and a slight decrease in forest, and larger decrease in grassland.
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Watershed Activities

To date, over 1 million pounds of PCBs have been dredged from the Waukegan River.

Recommendations for improving the Pike and Root River have been made and they are as follows:

  • Implementation of urban nonpoint source best management practices
  • Implementation of agricultural nonpoint source best management practices, including buffer strip development
  • Conduct baseline surveys on streams within the watershed
  • Assess sediment delivery, sediment transport, and streambank erosion
  • Conduct aquatic habitat and sediment assessments above and below dams on the Pike and Root Rivers
  • Implementation of aquatic habitat restoration and water quality improvement practices
  • Implement wetland restoration projects where applicable
  • Evaluate dams for removal

Watershed Groups

For more information, see the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ “Wisconsin’s Basins” website and the USEPA “Surf Your Watershed” website.

Additional information is available at Michigan State University's Institute for Water Research's Digital Watershed Tool for the Pike-Root Watershed. This site has interactive watershed-based information on industrial facilities discharge sites, toxic release inventory, permit compliance system, water quality stations, bacteria stations, national sediment inventory stations, best management practices, water quality observation stations, weather data stations, impaired waters (reach and area), landcover change (1992-2001), landuse 2001, soil, and elevation.

Waukegan Harbor Area of Concern 

The Waukegan Area of Concern (AOC) is 1.2 square kilometers of industrial, commercial, municipal and open lands located in Lake County, Illinois, on the west shore of Lake Michigan. It is located in the Pike-Root watershed and the Waukegan River subwatershed.
There is also an Expanded Study Area (ESA) bounded by Dead River on the north; a bluff line which parallels Sheridan Road on the west; the southern boundary of the former U.S. Steel Property on the south; and the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan on the east. The ESA was added to explore additional concerns of the citizens beyond the AOC.
A natural inlet and portions of adjacent wetlands were filled to form the present shape of the harbor. Waukegan Harbor consists of approximately 1.2 km2 of industrial, commercial, municipal and open/vacant lands. The watershed of the Waukegan ESA contains the mouth of the Waukegan River, the North Ditch drainage basin and other nearshore areas, which drain to Lake Michigan.
Waukegan Harbor is the only designated AOC in Illinois. Six of 14 use impairments have been identified for the Waukegan ESA based on the listing criteria approved by the International Joint Commission (IJC) in 1991. The impairments include:

  • restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • benthos degradation
  • restrictions on dredging
  • beach closings
  • degradation of phytoplankton populations and
  • loss of fish and wildlife habitat.

More information is found at the Waukegan Harbor Area of Concern page.

Watershed Data and Information

USGS Water Resources Links for: 04040002 - Pike-Root

USGS State Information and Contacts:

Current Water Data:

All Water Data (Current and Historic Sites):

Other Data Links:

Current Regional/National Conditions:

Search USGS for Links, Publications and Web Sites Associated with:

EPA Links for the Pike-Root - HUC 04040002:


Impaired (303d) Waters

A listing of impaired waters can be found on the U.S. EPA's website for the Pike Root Watershed

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Subwatersheds for Pike-Root Watershed

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Information on other Lake Michigan subwatersheds can be found at Lake Michigan Subwatershed Information
HUC Watershed Name
04040002 0101 Wind Point-Frontal Lake Michigan
04040002 0102 Oak Creek
04040002 0201 Village of Union Grove-West Branch Root River Canal
04040002 0202 East Branch Root River Canal
04040002 0203 West Branch Root River Canal
04040002 0204 Root River Canal
04040002 0301 Village of Hales Corner-Root River
04040002 0302 Ryan Creek-Root River
04040002 0303 Husher Creek-Root River
04040002 0304 Hoods Creek
04040002 0305 Community of Husher-Root River
04040002 0306 City of Racine-Root River
04040002 0401 City of Kenosha-Frontal Lake Michigan
04040002 0402 Pike Creek
04040002 0403 Pike River
04040002 0501 Waukegan River-Frontal Lake Michigan
04040002 0502 Diversey Harbor-Frontal Lake Michigan
04040002 0503 Oakwoods Cemetery-Frontal Lake Michigan