Water condition assessments & reporting

2014 Integrated Report

Water monitoring, assessment and condition

Wisconsin has updated its Clean Water Act Integrated Report for 2014, which includes assessment decisions gathered during the 2014 reporting period. Data analyzed during this reporting period includes monitoring data collected ten years prior to the actual assessment date (as per WisCALM 2014).

The 2014 reporting dataset includes information and assessments for a portion of the 28,605 individual waterbodies (approximately one-third of the state's water resources) stored in the WATERS system, including wetlands, lakes, bays, harbors, rivers, streams, and sloughs [for more information see the Water Atlas Data]. For each waterbody four distinct designated uses are stored and assessed as the data is available. The designated uses include fish and aquatic life, fish consumption, recreation, and public health and welfare.

The 2014 Integrated Report (IR)

The following are links to the attachments included in the IR submittal package to EPA in April 2014.



Wisconsin has developed a Consolidated Assessment and Listing Methodology (WisCALM) for Clean Water Act reporting. WisCALM describes assessment protocols for surface water quality assessments used to determine general waterbody condition, make impaired waters listing decisions and recommend management options.

WisCALM describes assessment protocols for waters to determine condition and to plan management options. Read WisCALM 2014 [PDF]

Waters within targeted watersheds, or specific streams, rivers or lakes, were assessed by analyzing monitoring data or by reviewing historical and more recent information against assessment parameters or condition evaluation metrics. This work resulted in placement of the water along a condition gradient of "excellent" to "poor". Waters in "poor" condition were be further analyzed using specific evaluation techniques requiring minimum datasets and quality assurance to determine impairment.

WisCALM 2014 changes [2014 WisCALM]

  • Clarifications of and revisions to minimum data requirements and assessment methods for water temperature and dissolved oxygen.
  • Updates to describe revised protocols for assessment of fish and aquatic life and recreation uses based on total phosphorus, chlorophyll, and macrophyte data.
  • Creation of a new reporting category for impaired waters within watershed improvement project areas for which TMDL development would be a low priority.
  • Revisions to incorporate updated stream natural community classifications and corresponding assessment tools, including the Coolwater fish biotic index and nonwadeable macroinvertebrate biotic index, as well as applicable condition category and listing thresholds.
  • Explanation of how DNR will resolve data gaps left after determining samples are unrepresentative.


General condition

Data collected under WDNR monitoring program are used to identify where a specific lake, river or stream falls on a continuum of water condition, which is the core assessment to determine if a water is attaining its applicable designated uses. WDNR uses four levels of condition to represent a water's placement in the overall water quality continuum.

Waters described as excellent and good clearly attain each assessed designated use; waters described as fair are also meeting their designated uses, but may be in a state that warrants additional monitoring in the future to assure water conditions are not declining. Waters that are described as poor may be considered added to the Impaired Waters List in accordance with Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act.

To learn more about the condition of specific waters, you can search the WDNR's impaired waters search pages to read about waters that either currently or in the past did not meet water qualitys standards. These pages will show waters that have been "delisted" or removed from the impaired waters list due to a restoration in aquatic health.

Additional online information is available for all waters that are mapped in the state's waterbody assessment database. You can search for a water near you on the water detail search and watershed search pages. The water detail pages have a "water condition" tab, which shows a visual representation of the water condition and if biologists have monitored the site there should be data available under the monitoring data tab. The watershed details pages have a broader level of information derived through watershed planning. These pages also have generalized water quality information.

USEPA submittal 2012

Every two years Wisconsin prepares a Water Quality Report to Congress, known as the Integrated Report (IR). The IR combines reporting requirements from Clean Water Act sections 305(b) and 303(d). Section 305(b) requires states to provide a summary of the overall health of waters, and Section 303(d) requires states to develop a list of waters that are not meeting water quality standards. This list is often referred to as the Impaired Waters List or 303(d) List. This reporting process allows EPA and the public to find comprehensive information on the status of Wisconsin's surface water quality, summarized on a biennial basis in a single report.

The 2012 Integrated Report (IR)

The following are links to the attachments included in the IR submittal package to EPA in April 2012.

Note: since the April 2012 submittal of the IR, the 2012 Impaired Waters List was revised and submitted to EPA on August 26, 2013 as an addendum to the above IR package. During this update, all waters previously placed in Category 5P on the draft Impaired Waters List submitted with the IR were reassessed using revised assessment methods described in an updated draft assessment methods document (Draft 2014 WisCALM [PDF]).

Contact information

For questions and comments about the Water Quality Report to Congress:

Aaron Larson, 608-264-6129

Impaired waters

The assessment of whether a waterbody is meeting a specific designated use inherently requires comparison to applicable water quality criteria, or, when numeric criteria do not exist, a well-defined reference condition or attainable use as a benchmark for comparison to narrative standards. This section briefly outlines the concepts of indicators and associated thresholds to measure attainment status of Wisconsin lakes, rivers, and streams. For purposes of this guidance, the term indicator is used to describe the various measures of water quality, including those that represent physical, chemical, biological, habitat, toxicity, and body tissue data. The term threshold is used to when referring to the numeric value or narrative description that distinguishes attainment of the water quality standards versus values that indicate impairment. In the simplest sense, a waterbody is defined as mpaired when it is not achieving any one of its designated uses generally as a result of some human-induced activity that prevents the use from being fully attained.

Key indicators for assessments

Detailed assessments are tailored to the specific concerns for a waterbody. The assessment can include any of the parameters. Indicators are sub-divided into the following categories:

  • Conventional physical-chemical indicators
  • Toxicity-based indicators
  • Biological indicators
  • Lake eutrophication indicators
Exceedance frequency

In the context of numeric water quality criteria, exceedance frequency refers to the number of times a criterion may be exceeded over a period of time before the water is considered impaired. If Wis. Adm. Code does not specify what constitutes an exceedance of the water quality criteria for specific parameters, exceedance criteria for those parameters are outlined in this WisCALM document in the Lakes and Rivers/Streams chapters. Exceedance criteria that are outlined in guidance must be in line with the intent of the criteria in code. In some cases, WisCALM lists impairment thresholds for parameters that do not have codified water quality criteria (for instance, chlorophyll a). For parameters that do not have codified criteria, their impairment thresholds may be used as guidance for listing, but a waterbody does not have to be listed based on that parameter alone. In addition, a waterbody will be placed on the Impaired Waters List if it is not meeting any one of its designated uses, independent of whether or not the water is meeting water quality criteria.

Impairment thresholds

Impairment thresholds are applied to determine whether waterbodies should be placed on the Impaired Waters List. These thresholds are usually expressed as ambient water concentrations of various substances based on numeric water quality criteria included in chs. NR 102-105, Wis. Adm. Code, WDNR technical documents, and federal guidance. In some cases, qualitative thresholds based upon narrative standards may be used to make impairment decisions. In those cases, a thoroughly documented analysis of the contextual information should be used in conjunction with professional judgment to collectively support a decision.

For some assessments methods, a single criterion or threshold may not be applicable across all the different waterbody types. For example, large shallow lakes in the southern portion of the state have naturally higher nutrient concentrations than the small shallow lakes in the northern part of the state. An initial waterbody classification analysis is required to ensure the assessment process applies the correct impairment threshold. For other assessment methods, the WDNR applies the same water quality criterion or threshold across all resource types. An example is the use of the same fish tissue mercury concentration for all our lakes and rivers in the assessment of Fish Consumption Advisories as part of the Public Health and Welfare Use.

Data quality

Information used for assessments must be consistent with the WDNR Quality Management Plan or have been obtained using comparable quality assurance procedures. In general, monitored information contained in WDNR databases will be used, unless more recent information is available. These data will be used unless experts determine that the data are no longer representative of current conditions. Department staff will determine if changes in the watershed have occurred, such as significant changes in land use, decreases of nonpoint source controls, or increases in the amount of pollutants discharged from point sources. Proposed changes to the Impaired Waters List must be based on assessment methods identified in WisCALM or equivalent, documented methods.

Last revised: Wednesday September 10 2014