Fish and Aquatic Life
This moderately large stream with a spring water source drains about 32 square miles of land. The stream was named for the large quantity of blue flag, a species of emergent vegetation in the sloughs at the mouth of the stream. The Flag River is considered an excellent trout stream and sports runs of migratory trout from Lake Superior. The outstanding resource waters list identifies this stream as an outstanding resource water south of the town road at T50N R8W S27. The middle nine miles are Class I trout waters. In the 1960s, numerous stream improvement devices were installed in sections 27 and 28 to provide pools and reduce erosion. In addition, a 500-foot long sheet revetment was installed at the mouth to keep the outlet open and provide freer movement for migratory trout.
The river drains areas of mixed hardwood and pine forest that experience periodic clear-cutting and are crossed by sand access roads.
WDNR's Port Wing Natural Area near the mouth of the river protects boreal forest and sloughs, portions of a natural sand beach and rocky headlands. The Flag River State Fishery Area surrounds Bibon Lake and numerous sloughs and wetlands. Along the Lake Superior shoreline here unique land forms consisting of old beach ridges support a beach community of plants. These ridges help contain coastal wetlands that extend several miles east from the river mouth along the Lake Superior shore. On the western shore, the fishery area provides an important habitat for shorebirds. Quarry Point is a scenic area of red sandstone cliffs and a historic quarry site, as well as sand beaches.
The lower reaches of the Flag River and its associated wetlands and shoreline complex provide important habitat for numerous species of waterfowl. The area also supports a rich fishery including brook, brown and rainbow trout and shiners, as well as pumpkinseed, round whitefish, splake, burbot, stickleback and yellow bullhead. Rainbow trout and coho salmon use the river for spawning.
In a sheltered backwater near the river mouth, two marinas operate that include commercial and sport fishing operations and a campground built on a long stretch of beach ridge next to the lake. Since the last plan update, WDNR sampled sediment and found no contaminants at levels above ranges typical for the region.
The Lake Superior Binational Program identified habitat values important to the Lake Superior ecosystem in the Flag River Fishery Area and Port Wing Natural Area, including coastal wetlands, rare communities, rare habitat, vital functions for planning objectives, habitat for migratory wildlife and fish and wildlife spawning and nursery grounds. The coastal wetlands evaluation identified the wetland complexes around the mouth of the river as priority wetlands (see discussion under Port Wing, above.)
During survey work conducted as part of the coastal wetlands evaluation, three rare species of macroinvertebrates were found and overall taxa richness was moderate (5-24 species) (Epstein 1997). The survey noted that bank erosion and turbidity were significant, with silt a concern.
From: Turville-Heitz, Meg. 1999. Lake Superior Basin Water Quality Management Plan. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.
Author Aquatic Biologist
The Flag River (Bodeen Road to headwaters) was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; available biological data did not indicate impairment (i.e. no macroinvertebrate or fish Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scored in the "poor" condition category) based on the 2018 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Fish and Aquatic Life use. This water was meeting this designated use and not considered impaired.
Author Amanda Smith
Flag River (WBIC 2877500) was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; new total phosphorus sample data were clearly below the 2018 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Fish and Aquatic Life use. This water was meeting this designated use and was not considered impaired.
Author Ashley Beranek
Wisconsin has over 84,000 miles of streams, 15,000 lakes and milllions of acres of wetlands. Assessing the condition of this vast amount of water is challenging. The state's water monitoring program uses a media-based, cross-program approach to analyze water condition. An updated monitoring strategy (2015-2020) is now available.
Compliance with Clean Water Act fishable, swimmable standards are located in the Executive Summary of Water Condition in 2016 . See also 'monitoring' and 'projects'.
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.
Monitoring the condition of a river, stream, or lake includes gathering physical, chemical, biological, and habitat data. Comprehensive studies often gather all these parameters in great detail, while lighter assessment events will involve sampling physical, chemical and biological data such as macroinvertebrates. Aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish communities integrate watershed or catchment condition, providing great insight into overall ecosystem health. Chemical and habitat parameters tell researchers more about human induced problems including contaminated runoff, point source dischargers, or habitat issues that foster or limit the potential of aquatic communities to thrive in a given area. Wisconsin's Water Monitoring Strategy was recenty updated.
Grants and Management Projects
|Project Name (Click for Details)||Year Started|
|WBIC||Official Waterbody Name||Station ID||Station Name||Earliest Fieldwork Date||Latest Fieldwork Date||View Station||View Data|
|2877500||Flag River||10012200||Flag River - Upstream Of Hwy 13||Map||Data|
|2877500||Flag River||045013||Flag River - Mouth||Map||Data|
|2877500||Flag River||10019555||Lake Superior -- Port Wing||6/23/2007||7/29/2016||Map||Data|
|2877500||Flag River||10034055||Flag River Estuary Macro & Water Quality||8/17/2011||8/31/2017||Map||Data|
Flag River is located in the Bayfield Peninsula Northwest watershed which is 236.05 mi². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (77%), grassland (9%) and a mix of wetland (6%) and other uses (8%). This watershed has 473.06 stream miles, 43,216.55 lake acres and 6,677.27 wetland acres.
Nonpoint Source Characteristics
This watershed is ranked Not Ranked for runoff impacts on streams, Not Available for runoff impacts on lakes and Low for runoff impacts on groundwater and therefore has an overall rank of Low. 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.