Fish and Aquatic Life
Lake Wingra is a shallow 345-acre lake within and adjoining the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Along its shoreline, Wingra is fed by seeps and springs which offer a diversity of wetlands and wet forest systems along the lake's southern border, including spring-fed tamarack stands, deep water cattail marsh, fen, wet meadow, oak savannah, and second-growth maple forest. The lake's maximum depth is 21 feet and mean depth, 8 feet. Wingra does not stratify and in 1980 was approximately one-third or more covered by Eurasian water-milfoil, an aggressive non-native water species.
One of Wingra's principal wetlands is Gardner Marsh, located in the northwestern portion of the UW-Madison Arboretum. Manipulations made to Murphy Creek's outlet to the lake in the early 1900s and the construction of Arboretum Drive isolated Gardner Marsh from Lake Wingra. The marsh is currently overrun by an invasive cattail hybrid (Typha X glauca) with only small patches of remnant sedge meadow. Changes in lake habitat and increased numbers of insect-feeding fish have decreased zooplankton and aquatic insect populations over time (DCRPC, 1988) and today the lake's fishery is dominated by stunted panfish and common carp. Muskellunge have been stocked with the hope of controlling panfish populations.
Wingra has been adversely affected over the years by alterations of the lake and surrounding wetlands, and by urban stormwater. The impact of urban stormwater is perhaps best reflected by chloride levels twice as high as in Lake Monona. Sodium levels in Lake Wingra are about 75 percent higher than the levels in Lake Monona (The Fishery of the Yahara Lakes). Some water quality improvements have been made in the lake's eutrophic condition over the years, mainly from the diversion of wastewater and other effluent loadings of nutrients around the Yahara River chain of lakes, yet the lake remains shallow, highly turbid and fertile. Purple loosestrife has also invaded the lake, crowding out more desirable wetland vegetation. Fisheries management staff observed, however, a number of native plants growing in the lake's southeast bay in the summer of 1996. Proposed management actions within the coming years include: rerouting a major storm sewer outfall through HoNeeUm pond; carp removal; wild rice reintroduction; and recoupling Gardner Marsh to the lake (Lathrop, 1996).
Lake Wingra was identified in 1997 as a Lower Rock River Basin Integrated Ecosystem Management (IEM) project. As such, a variety of monitoring and coordination activities are planned for the lake in an effort to improve or restore the system's ecological functions.
A number of research projects sponsored by Edgewood College and others, and conducted by the Heron Institute--a K-12 educational program--are underway on the lake: the effect cutting the woody, invasive red osier dogwood on emergent wetland vegetation; red-winged black birds as wetland indicator species; comparative study between Lake Wingra and Dunn's Prairie Pond, a sediment detention pond; the lake's bluegill population; and zooplankton populations and behavior (Bohanan). Lake Wingra is also a UW Center for Limnology Long-Term Ecological Research lake and has also been studied under the International Biological Program (see “Lake Wingra, 1837-1973: A Case History of Human Impact,” Baumann et al.).
Author Aquatic Biologist
Source: 1985, Surface Water Resources of Dane County,WI: WI-DNR
Lake Wingra T7N, R9E, Sec. 27
surface acres 345, SDF = 1.61, Maximum depth = 21 ft
A natural, shallow basin overlying a feeder stream to the preglacial Yahara River, its outlet is Murphy Creek, a tributary to Lake Monona. The lake level is 1 ft lower than its original level, maintained by a dam at the outlet. Man-made changes in the lake and surrounding wetlands and watershed have adversely affected Lake Wingra. Dredging, draining, urbanization, construction, and road salt use have been the major factors affecting the physical and chemical characteristics of the lake. The introduction of carp was disastrous to the lake's biology, and the spread of Eurasian water-milfoil, an aquatic weed, has caused concern among biologists. Baumann et al. (1974) provide an excellent summary of Lake Wingra's history.
Conditions in Lake Wingra have improved slightly in recent years. A carp removal program ran from 1936-55, and barriers were constructed at the outlet to prevent carp from entering. The City of Madison is reducing the use of road salt on city streets and the chloride levels in Lake Wingra are beginning to fall. Settling ponds constructed along storm sewers have proven effective in reducing the nutrient loading of the lake. Siltation, shoreline erosion, and the past draining and filling of wetlands reduces the recreational quality and fishery of Lake Wingra.
The fishery of Lake Wingra is dominated by stunted panfish (Churchill 1976), and it is best described as a bass-panfish lake. Carp removal allowed the domination of the macrophyte community by Eurasian water-milfoil, which has provided excellent spawning habitat for panfish, especially the bluegill. Predaceous rough fish such as longnose gar and bowfin were removed with the carp, thereby lessening predation on the panfish. Poor northern pike reproduction has also resulted in reduced panfish predation. True and hybrid muskie are being stocked in Lake Wingra. It is hopedthat muskie will replace northern pike as an effective restraint on the panfish population and as a prized, spirited game fish. While other panfish have been stunted, crappies have exhibited good growth rates in Lake Wingra and a state record black crappie was caught in 1981. Nearly all frontage on the lake is in public ownership, either as parkway, city park, or part of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Boat launching is available at Vilas and Wingra parks.
Fish Species: longnose gar, bowfin, central mudminnow, northern pike, muskie, hybrid muskie, common carp, golden shiner, bluntnose and fathead minnow, white sucker, black, brown, and yellow bullhead, brook silverside, rock bass, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, bluegill, largemouth bass, white and black crappie, yellow perch, and walleye.
Author Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin
Wisconsin's Water Quality Standards provide qualitative and quantitative goals for waters that are protective of Fishable, Swimmable conditions [Learn more]. Waters that do not meet water quality standards are considered impaired and restoration actions are planned and carried out until the water is once again fishable and swimmable
Management goals can include creation and implementation of a Total Maximum Daily Load Analysis, habitat restoration work, partnership education and outreach and more. If specific recommendations exist for this water, they will be displayed below.
Lake Wingra is located in the Yahara River and Lake Monona watershed which is 93.73 mi². Land use in the watershed is primarily suburban (32%), agricultural (26%) and a mix of urban (18%) and other uses (24%). This watershed has 101.97 stream miles, 6,275.33 lake acres and 5,158.72 wetland acres.
Nonpoint Source Characteristics
This watershed is ranked Not Available for runoff impacts on streams, Not Available for runoff impacts on lakes and High for runoff impacts on groundwater and therefore has an overall rank of High. This value can be used in ranking the watershed or individual waterbodies for grant funding under state and county programs.However, all waters are affected by diffuse pollutant sources regardless of initial water quality. Applications for specific runoff projects under state or county grant programs may be pursued. For more information, go to surface water program grants.