Fish Passage Assessment in the St.Louis River Area of Concern in Wisconsin


The St. Louis River Area of Concern has nine beneficial use impairments (BUI), including two related to fish and wildlife: Degraded Fish and Wildlife Populations, and Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat. The restoration of hydrologically connected habitat is listed as a part of the BUI Removal Target for Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat in the Remedial Action Plan (RAP; MPCA, 2013): “Additional aquatic or hydrologically connected habitat throughout the AOC watersheds has been successfully protected and rehabilitated sufficiently to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations through implementation of projects at prioritized restoration sites.” The tributaries in the Area of Concern are known to support a wide variety of species including cool water species like smallmouth bass and coldwater species like brook trout (See Figure 1). Many estuarine species, such as walleye and smallmouth bass, depend on tributaries for spawning and rearing. White Suckers, a primary prey species for the recreationally-important muskellunge, also depend on tributaries for spawning and rearing. Both walleye and muskellunge are species with specific population targets listed in the RAP under the Degraded Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI (MPCA, 2013). However, urbanization and development of this area in the past century has resulted in the fragmentation of many streams, preventing fish from accessing vital upstream habitats. During the development of the Remedial Action Plan, road-stream crossings were identified as likely barriers to fish passage in the Wisconsin portion of the Area of Concern. With the exception of a few large barriers, the locations of barriers in the Area of Concern have not been inventoried previously. Data on some existing stream crossings and culverts exists for the City of Superior and Douglas County, but do not include barrier information, and are not comprehensive.


Priority action 9-17 in the Remedial Action Plan aims to address the fish passage barrier issue: “replace or retrofit a minimum of two perched culverts to allow for fish passage and other aquatic organism passage.” In order to prioritize barriers in the Area of Concern for upgrade to complete action 9-17, the WDNR will contract with University of Wisconsin – Superior Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) to conduct an assessment of existing stream crossings. The data will be used to prioritize the upgrade of culverts to allow organism passage based on ecological benefit. This assessment will be used to identify two culvert improvement projects in order to fulfill priority action 9-17 in the RAP. This project will conduct a stream crossing assessment throughout the St. Louis River AOC in Wisconsin. The WDNR will contract with a consultant or local partner to complete the assessment. This assessment will identify barriers to aquatic organism passage and then prioritize the replacement of those culverts in order to maximize ecological benefit. It will create a list of priority road stream crossing projects that will facilitate access to aquatic habitats intended to improve brook trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, and white sucker populations. All three of these species are recreationally-important in this AOC. Pending funding, WDNR will ultimately implement the highest priority projects to fulfill management action 9-17 in the St. Louis River AOC Remedial Action Plan (RAP). The implementation of these projects will make progress towards removing the Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat BUI in this AOC. Fish passage projects for walleye, white sucker, and muskellunge identified based on the results of this assessment will also help meet removal targets for the Degraded Fish and Wildlife Populations BUI in this AOC.

Study Design

The Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) will work with stakeholders to develop a list of priority sites where hydrologically connected habitat should be restored within the St. Louis River Area of Concern in Wisconsin (WI AOC). LSRI will convene and lead a Technical Team to assist with compiling and summarizing relevant stream and road data, refining project objectives, developing collection and analysis methods, identifying data transfer and storage methods, reviewing crossing assessment data and developing a list of priority crossings for future assessment and rehabilitation. LSRI will conduct a stream crossing assessment and inventory at approximately 300 stream crossings in 2016 to characterize the barriers to aquatic organism passage at road-stream crossings throughout the WI AOC. Stream crossings will be identified by the WDNR based on a subset of the intersection of TIGER roads and National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) streams. There are approximately 600 road-stream crossings in the WI AOC (See Figure 1). Lidar assessments in southwestern Wisconsin found that approximately half of those crossings are culverts with a defined channel upstream, therefore approximately 300 stream crossings will be assessed for this project. WI DNR will conduct a LiDAR assessment for the St. Louis WI AOC to determine the number of stream crossings to be assessed by LSRI. Fifteen to twenty crossings out of the ~300 assessed will be further vetted by the Technical Team, out of which 5-10 will be chosen for follow-up assessments in 2017. The additional field data and measurements at these 5-10 sites will be used to rank barriers that will be prioritized and recommended for upgrade or replacement in order to maximize ecological benefit.

QA Measures

Run Project Summary Report

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
Final Report Needed
Reports and Documents
Quarterly Report for April to July 2017 prepared by Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) Amy Eliot.
2016-Q3 Quarterly Report for Fish Passage Project on St. Louis AOC
Final Scope of Work for Fish Passage Culvert Assessment in the St. Louis River Area of Concern in Wisconsin for UW-Superior Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI).