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Manitowish RiverManitowish River. © Wisconsin DNR

Contact information
Lisa Helmuth
Water Quality Bureau

Upper Wisconsin basin

About the basin

The Headwaters Area includes portions of the Upper Wisconsin, Upper Green Bay and Wolf River basins. Headwaters are the upper reaches of a basin or watershed and thus contain smaller streams and rivers tributary to larger waterbodies. This area contains some of the state's most beautiful waters and includes the counties of Florence, Forest, Vilas, Oneida, Lincoln and Langlade.

Basin resources

The Headwaters area contains a greater percentage of open water than most other areas of the state. The basin contains 34% of all the state’s named and unnamed lakes and 22% of the total lake acreage. Of the 15,057 lakes in Wisconsin, 5,098 are in the Headwaters basin with over 3,000 of those being small unnamed lakes. Pelican Lake, Oneida County, is the largest lake in the Headwaters basin at 3,585 acres. Approximately 58% of all the lakes larger than 10 acres in size in the Headwaters basin are seepage lakes, followed by drainage (27%), spring (10%) and drained (4%). Besides the abundance of lakes there are approximately 3,895 miles of streams and rivers that vary in biological use from small warm and coldwater streams to large rivers.

The Wisconsin River is the largest waterway in the Headwaters basin. It originates at Lac Vieux Desert, which lies in both the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Vilas County in Wisconsin. 139 of the Wisconsin’s 420 miles flows north to south through Vilas, Oneida and Lincoln Counties before it leaves the Headwaters basin approximately four miles south of Merrill. Many of the streams and several of the lakes in the Headwaters basin are classified as either Exceptional Resource Waters (ERW) or Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW). ORW waters have excellent water quality and high-quality fisheries. They do not receive wastewater discharges and any future point source discharges will not be allowed unless the quality of such discharges meets or exceeds the quality of the receiving water. ERW’s have excellent water quality and valued fisheries but may already receive wastewater discharges or may receive future discharges necessary to correct environmental or public health problems. There are approximately 33,587 acres of lakes and 960 miles of streams and rivers that are considered either ERW or ORW water.See the Surface Water Data Viewer to view details about the basin.

Watersheds, waters

Water resource information for specific watersheds

Watershed details Watershed map Watershed size Streams, lakes, bays & harbors Counties Water management unit (WMU) Major drainage system
Copper River UW31 103.05 mi 2 UW31 Water lists Lincoln, Marathon Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Deerskin River UW46 56.88 mi 2 UW46 Water lists Forest, Vilas Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Eagle River UW44 181.7 mi 2 UW44 Water lists Forest, Oneida, Vilas Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Lower Tomahawk River UW36 133.87 mi 2 UW36 Water lists Lincoln, Oneida Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Middle Tomahawk River UW37 233.3 mi 2 UW37 Water lists Oneida, Price Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
New Wood River UW32 115.73 mi 2 UW32 Water lists Lincoln, Price, Taylor Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Noisy and Pine Creeks UW33 179.35 mi 2 UW33 Water lists Langlade, Lincoln, Oneida Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Pelican River UW40 264.88 mi 2 UW40 Water lists Forest, Langlade, Oneida Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Prairie River UW30 263.99 mi 2 UW30 Water lists Langlade, Lincoln, Oneida Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Rhinelander Flowage UW41 119.7 mi 2 UW41 Water lists Oneida Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Somo River UW35 141.31 mi 2 UW35 Water lists Lincoln, Oneida, Price Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Spirit River UW34 169.02 mi 2 UW34 Water lists Lincoln, Price, Taylor Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
St. Germain River UW43 70.11 mi 2 UW43 Water lists Vilas Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Sugar Camp Creek UW42 187.99 mi 2 UW42 Water lists Oneida, Vilas Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Tamarack Pioneer River UW45 209.26 mi 2 UW45 Water lists Vilas Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Upper Tomahawk River UW38 186.83 mi 2 UW38 Water lists Oneida, Vilas Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River
Woodboro UW39 61.99 mi 2 UW39 Water lists Lincoln, Oneida Upper Wisconsin Mississippi River

More information

Contact Nancy Larson, Water Program Supervisor, for more information, or:

For more on the basin, contact West Central DNR Staff.

See also

Last revised: Thursday January 21 2016