Watershed - Lower Black River (BR01)
Lower Black River Watershed

Details

The Lower Black River watershed is located in northwest La Crosse and southern Trempealeau Counties and contains land that drains approximately 190 square miles. The watershed contains many acres of wetlands adjacent to the Black and Mississippi Rivers, in addition to the steep topography found throughout the rest of the watershed.

This watershed was selected as a priority watershed in 1981 under the Wisconsin Nonpoint Source Water Pollution Abatement Program. The project sought to reduce sedimentation and nutrient loading of streams. Best management practices (BMPs), designed to improve water quality and instream habitat, were installed between 1985 and 1993. Only 14% of eligible land owners participated in the priority watershed project (WDNR, 1996).

To assess any stream improvements where best management practices (BMPs) were installed, chemical and biological data were collected in 1992 and 1994. Improvements were difficult to assess because of low land owner participation and lack of comprehensive stream data before BMP installation. However, habitat ratings and macroinvertebrate data indicated improvements in small stream sections where several BMPs were installed (Masterson).

Date  1999

Nonpoint and Point Sources

A confined hog operation (approx. 13,000 animals) located near Braun's Bay inadvertently created an ammonia plume in groundwater adjacent to the facility. Babcock Swine, Inc. lined the leaking animal waste storage lagoons in 1990 and 1991. Some reductions of ammonia and nitrate have been documented in monitoring wells, however levels are still well above acceptable concentrations (Boettcher). Continued monitoring and a nutrient management plan for the landspreading of animal wastes are required in their recently reissued wastewater discharge permit.

Date  1999

Ecological Landscapes for Lower Black River Watershed

Ecological Landscapes

This watershed is located in the Western Coulee and Ridges Ecological Landscape in southwestern and west central Wisconsin and is characterized by its highly eroded, driftless topography and relatively extensive forested landscape. Soils are silt loams (loess) and sandy loams over sandstone residuum over dolomite. Several large rivers including the Wisconsin, Mississippi, Chippewa, Kickapoo and Black flow through or border the Ecological Landscape.

Historical vegetation consisted of southern hardwood forests, oak savanna, scattered prairies, and floodplain forests and marshes along the major rivers. With Euro-American settlement, most of the land on ridgetops and valley bottoms was cleared of oak savanna, prairie, and level forest for agriculture.

The steep slopes between valley bottom and ridgetop, unsuitable for raising crops, grew into oak-dominated forests after the ubiquitous presettlement wildfires were suppressed. Current vegetation is a mix of forest (40%), agriculture, and grassland with some wetlands in the river valleys. The primary forest cover is oak-hickory (51%) dominated by oak species and shagbark hickory. Maple-basswood forests (28%), dominated by sugar maple, basswood and red maple, are common in areas that were not subjected to repeated presettlement wildfires. Bottomland hardwoods (10%) are common in the valley bottoms of major rivers and are dominated by silver maple, ashes, elms, cottonwood, and red maple. Relict conifer forests including white pine, hemlock and yellow birch are a rarer natural community in the cooler, steep, north slope microclimates.

Date  2010

Hydrologic Features

Flooding in the lower reaches of Halfway Creek and Sand Lake Coulee Creek prompted the Town of Onalaska to pursue funding for a study to understand the causes and explore solutions. Development near the confluence of these streams with the Mississippi River has put more people and property at risk for flooding. Hydrologic changes in these sub-watersheds will require time and large amounts of money to reduce sediment loading and decrease peak flows. Both structural and non-structural solutions are outlined in the study (Vierbicher).

Date  1999

Wildlife and Habitat

The WDNR collected fish community data between 1975 and 1979 at several locations in this watershed (Fago). This pre-implementation data should be analyzed and compared with new fishery surveys conducted since completion of the priority watershed project. One aquatic dependent species of concern has been documented in this watershed. Management decisions should consider potential affects to these species.

Date  1999

Lower Black River Watershed At-a-Glance

Impaired Water in Lower Black River Watershed
River and Stream QualityAll Waters in Watershed

To assess any stream improvements where best management practices (BMPs) were installed, chemical and biological data were collected in 1992 and 1994. Improvements were difficult to assess because of low land owner participation and lack of comprehensive stream data before BMP installation. However, habitat ratings and macroinvertebrate data indicated improvements in small stream sections where several BMPs were installed (Masterson).

Date  1999

Watershed Trout Streams
Watershed Outstanding & Exceptional Resources

Lakes and Impoundments

Impaired Waters

List of Impaired Waters
Watershed Grants
Grant Details
Large Scale Lake Planning
Date
4/1/1997
Waters Involved
Lake Onalaska
Status
Complete

Town Of Onalaska: Lake Onalaska Sediment Trap Design: The Town of Onalaska proposes to develop engineered designs with bid specifications for two sediment traps to reduce sedimentation into Lake Onalaska. One trap will be located in Halfway Creek at County Road XX. The other trap will be located in Sand Lake Coulee Creek at the bike trail.


Grant Details
Large Scale Lake Planning
Date
4/1/1997
Waters Involved
Lake Onalaska
Status
Complete

Town Of Onalaska: Lake Onalaska Subdivision Ordinance Revision: The Town of Onalaska proposes to revise the Town's subdivision ordinance to include storm water runoff and land use/density provisions. The project will involve a comprehensive public involvement process.


Grant Details
Large Scale Lake Planning
Date
4/1/1997
Waters Involved
Lake Onalaska
Status
Complete

Town Of Onalaska: Onalaska Lake Brice Prairie Hydraulic Study: Town of Onalaska proposes to conduct a hydraulic study of the Brice Prairie area located directly adjacent to Lake Onalaska. Project activities include compilation of existing groundwater quality data and projecting the impact of several development scenarios to develop recommendations for land management practices.


Grant Details
Small Scale Lake Planning
Date
4/1/2007
Waters Involved
Black River
Status
Complete

Town Of Onalaska: Onalaska Study-Plan: The Town of Onalaska proposes to conduct a study of sediment and pollution contributors to Lake Onalaska in La Crosse County, to gather public comment on community objectives for the lake and develop a plan for implementation of these objectives. Major project elements to include; 1) Watershed analysis, 2) Public informational meeting, 3) Plan development, 4) Design of a sediment and nutient trapping facility.


Grant Details
Small Scale Lake Planning
Date
4/1/2007
Waters Involved
Lake Onalaska
Status
Complete

Town Of Onalaska: Onalaska Study-Plan: The Town of Onalaska proposes to conduct a study of sediment and pollution contributors to Lake Onalaska in La Crosse County, to gather public comment on community objectives for the lake and develop a plan for implementation of these objectives. Major project elements to include; 1) Watershed analysis, 2) Public informational meeting, 3) Plan development, 4) Design of a sediment and nutient trapping facility.


Grant Details
Targeted Runoff - Rural Construction
Date
8/10/2005
Waters Involved
Hardies Creek
Status
Complete

Trempealeau County Land Conservation Dept: Byom Voluntary Trm: To cost-share upgrade of manure management/barnyard systems on the Dan Byom farm to bring into compliance with NR151 performance standards, including No Direct Runoff.


Grant Details
Urban Nonpoint - Stormwater Planning
Date
1/1/2004
Waters Involved
Unnamed
Status
Complete

Town Of Onalaska: Stormwater Utility Formation: to cost-share @60% development of stormwater utility


Lower Black River Watershed

Goals

1/1/2016
Restoration of water quality of Hardies Creek, Halfway Creek, Fleming Creek and other streams in need of restoration.

Priorities

1/1/2016
Implementation of Hardies Creek TMDL is a very high priority. Hardies Creek is approximately five-miles long, located in the southeast portion of Trempealeau County in western Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) placed the lower 3.541 miles of Hardies Creek on the state�s 303(d) impaired waters list in 1998 as low priority due to degraded habitat caused by excessive sedimentation. The Clean Water Act and US EPA regulations require that each state develop TMDLs for waters on the Section 303(d) list. The purpose of this TMDL is to identify load allocations and management actions that will help restore the biological integrity of Hardies Creek.
Watershed Recommendations
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Citizen Stream Monitoring
Date
Status
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
1/1/2012
In Progress
Projects
 
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Citizen Stream Monitoring
Date
Status
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
1/1/2012
In Progress
Projects
 
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Citizen Stream Monitoring
Date
Status
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
1/1/2012
In Progress
Projects
 
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Citizen Stream Monitoring
Date
Status
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
1/1/2012
In Progress
Projects
 
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Citizen Stream Monitoring
Date
Status
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
1/1/2012
In Progress
Projects
 
Monitor Aquatic Biology
Monitor biology on WBIC: 1676000
Date
Status
Conduct biological (mIBI or fIBI) monitoring on Halfway Creek, WBIC: 1676000, AU:14054
5/21/2016
Proposed
Projects
 
Monitor and/or Protect Groundwater, Sourcewater
 
Date
Status
WDNR staff should continue to encourage communities to develop wellhead protection plans in the Watershed and the whole basin.
7/1/2010
Proposed
Projects
 
Monitor to Evaluate Projects
 
Date
Status
Water Division staff should conduct fishery surveys on streams in the Lower Black River watershed to document fish community changes since implementation of best management practices. (Type B)
1/1/2010
Proposed
 
Lower Black River WatershedWatershed History Note

The Lower Black River Watershed includes part of the urban areas of the cities of Onalaska and La Crosse. During the second half of the 19th century, La Crosse grew to become one of the largest cities in Wisconsin. At that time, it was a major economic center in the state, especially of the lumber industry, for logs cut in the interior of the state could be rafted down the Black River toward sawmills built in the city.

The watershed also includes many smaller communities, such as the Village of Holmen, whose history is documented by its historical society. For example, in August 1935, the Civil Conservation Corps opened a camp on 10 acres of the M. F. McHugh farm located on McHugh Road. The camp housed 100-120 men at one time. Crews worked on area conservation projects, including reforestation, strip farming, terracing, stream bank protection, and gully control. The camp closed in July 1940.

About 3.5 miles northwest of Holmen, Rustic Road #61 provides access to the McGilvray Bottoms and what was commonly called Seven Bridges Road. So named because of the seven bridges across the channels of the Black River, the road was permanently closed in 1948 because of frequent flooding. The roadway, located within the state-owned Van Loon Wildlife Area, provides a scenic hiking trail to the remaining rare bowstring arch-truss bridges which were built in 1905-1908. The McGilvray Road is listed with both the National and Wisconsin Registers of Historic Places.

A parking lot and picnic table at the beginning of the roadway invite hikers, cross-country skiers and birdwatchers. One of the oldest trees in the area is located at 112 State Street in Holmen. Its age is estimated at 180 years based on tests by the Department of Natural Resources. The tree has a diameter of 4.2 feet and a circumference of 13.3 feet. It shades a home built in 1897. [Image at right: Mississippi River at Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, at Black River Delta, above La Crosse, Wisconsin. Image may be subject to copyright: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/AQ7040-001/Stone]

Date  2010