This watershed lies entirely within Sauk County. It includes the portion of the Baraboo River from Reedsburg to the west edge of Baraboo. Smallmouth bass fishing is considered a valuable asset to the watershed.
The majority of the watershed is agricultural. Dairy farming is the dominant agricultural activity. Other major land cover in the watershed includes broad-leaf deciduous forest and grassland. There are a few wetland areas in the watershed.
Population, Land Use
The overall population in the watershed for 2000 was estimated to be around 12,500 people and population growth over the last decade was fairly high.
Agriculture is the dominant land use in the Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed with over 60% of the total area covered in farmland. Forest is the second largest land usage in the watershed covering around 29% of available space. Open water and space claim a little over four percent of the watershed’s total area and wetlands occupy over three percent. Suburban landscapes mark almost two percent of the watershed. Grassland and urban environments each cover less than one percent of the total area.
Nonpoint and Point Sources
The water quality and sport fisheries in the watershed are significantly affected by nonpoint sources of pollution. As a result, the watershed has been ranked as a high priority for nonpoint source pollution reduction. The primary sources of nonpoint pollution in the watershed are from barnyard runoff and manure spreading practices and manure storage in the watershed has occasionally been a problem. As a result of the significant impact of nonpoint source pollution on the watershed, the watershed was selected for a nonpoint source priority watershed project. The project is jointly sponsored by the DNR, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the Sauk County Land Conservation Department. Watershed nonpoint source appraisal monitoring was completed in 1990 and 1991 and a plan detailing water quality and water resources goals of the project was approved in October 1992. So far, there has been a very high participation rate in the Narrows Creek priority watershed program.
There are several permitted point source discharges in the watershed. The communities of Reedsburg, North Freedom, and Rock Springs discharge to the Baraboo River. The Hillpoint Sanitary District discharges to Hillpoint Creek and the Lime Ridge facility discharges to Narrows Creek. The Sauk County Health Care center discharges to a tributary of Narrows Creek. The one industrial discharge, Foremost Farms, discharges to the Baraboo River.
The Western Coulee and Ridges Ecological Landscape in southwestern and west central Wisconsin 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.
Hydrology is the study of water - its occurrence, circulation, distribution and properties. Water in Driftless Area streams is ultimately derived from rainfall and snowmelt that either percolates into the ground or runs off the land. In the most basic sense, the condition of a stream is a reflection of the watershed it drains. This concept is especially true in Driftless Area streams due to steep gradient, small watershed size, and extremely steep hills. To determine the watershed of a Driftless Area stream, one need look no further than the hillsides on either side of a stream. The steep hills found throughout the Driftless Area can shed water very quickly; consequently the vegetative cover and soil condition of hillsides are vital to the health of adjacent streams. The trees and grasses that grow on these hillsides are what effectively retain water with their roots, leaves and ultimately the soil. This water then slowly moves through the underlying rock layers to become groundwater that is either pumped from wells for consumption or resurfaces as springs.
Some springs flow as if from an underground pipe while others gently bubble up out of the ground. This constant source of water that averages around 50 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year is what keeps dissolved oxygen levels high in the summer and trout eggs developing properly throughout the winter. The greater absorption capacity within a watershed in the Driftless Area, the more water can percolate into the ground which slowly, but eventually, reaches a stream via clean cool springs. In a watershed with little or no absorptive capacity, for example one with acres of concrete, rooftops or soil devoid of vegetation, rainfall moves quickly over these surfaces to the nearest stream causing flash flooding.
Streamflow trends in southwestern Wisconsin were recently analyzed by comparing stream flow data to precipitation data. The study concluded that baseflow (stream flow during dry periods) has increased and peak flood flows have decreased over the last century in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin (Gebert, Warren A., William R. Krug. August 1996. Streamflow Trends in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. Water Resources Bulletin, American Water Resources Association. Vol. 32, No. 4.) Land management practices which allow more rainwater to infiltrate the ground rather than runoff to the nearest stream have been suggested as the primary reason for the discovered increase in baseflow and decrease in flood peaks.
Since most baseflow of Driftless Area streams is derived from groundwater, an increase in the amount of groundwater would intuitively be reflected in increased baseflow. Alternately, more water soaking into the ground results in less water running off to the nearest stream thus reducing flood levels. That’s not to say that floods don’t occur in the Baraboo River Basin, but rather that they are less frequent and less severe than in the past.
Wildlife and Habitat
The watershed is also home for a variety of rare plant and animal species including; 3 species of beetles, 6 species of birds, 2 species of dragonflies, 1 species of fish, 1 species of mussel, 22 plant species, 1 species of snake, and 1 species of salamander. These plants and animals are also listed on the state's Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI).
River and Stream QualityAll Waters in Watershed
According to the WDNR’s Register of Waterbodies (ROW) database, there are over 455 miles of streams and rivers in the Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed; 168 miles of these waters have been entered into the WDNR’s assessment database. Of these 168 miles, more than 75% are meeting Fish and Aquatic Life uses and are specified as in “good” condition; about one-fifth of stream miles are considered to be in “poor” condition and are listed as impaired. The condition of the remaining five percent of stream miles is not known or documented.
There are no known Exceptional or Outstanding Resource Waters for this watershed, nor have any streams or lakes been flagged as impaired. Five miles of Class I trout streams and three miles of Class II trout streams have been identified along Seeley Creek. Naturally reproducing sturgeon can be found along stretches of the Baraboo River. Narrows Creek, Seeley Creek, Hill Point Creek, and the Baraboo River all support populations of small mouth bass. These populations are reinforced by fish propagation efforts along Narrows Creek and Seeley Creek.
Date 2011 Watershed Trout StreamsWatershed Outstanding & Exceptional Resources
Lakes and Impoundments
The WDNR’s ROW database shows that there are over eight acres of lakes and ponds and another 222 acres of unspecified open water in the Lower Kickapoo River Watershed. Of these, 167 acres are entered into the state’s assessment database. Over one-fifth of the 167 acres are indicated as supporting Fish and Aquatic Life uses. The remaining lake acres within the watershed have not been assessed for Fish and Aquatic Life use support or any other use support. Of the 88 acres of reservoirs and impoundments in the watershed, only about four acres are entered into the state’s assessment database; none of which have been assessed for Fish and Aquatic Life use support or any other use support. Seeley Lake and Virginia Lake are the only named lakes in the watershed and both are impoundments.
The Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed is located entirely within Sauk County. An estimated 4% of the current land uses in the watershed are wetlands. Currently, about 42% of the original wetlands in the watershed are estimated to exist. Of these wetlands, the majority include forested wetlands (56%), and emergent wetlands (36%), which include marshes and wet meadows.
Little is known about the condition of the remaining wetlands but estimates of reed canary grass (RCG) infestations, an opportunistic aquatic invasive wetland plant, into different wetland types has been estimated based on satellite imagery. This information shows that reed canary grass dominates 40% of the existing emergent wetlands and five percent of the remaining forested wetlands (See Figure 4). Reed canary grass domination inhibits successful establishment of native wetland species.
Of the 5,736 acres of estimated lost wetlands in the watershed, approximately 88% are considered potentially restorable based on modeled data, including soil types, land use, and land cover (Chris Smith, DNR, 2009).
No Impaired Waters are listed for this watershed.
Date 2011 List of Impaired Waters
Aquatic Invasive Species
Three aquatic invasive species have been documented within this watershed. Curly-leaf pondweed have been found in Virginia Lake. Freshwater Jellyfish were discovered in an unnamed Skillet Creek Farm pond. And Rusty Crayfish have been verified and vouchered in Hill Point Creek.
Fish Consumption Advice
Currently, there are no specific fish consumption advisories in effect for this watershed. However, a general fish consumption advisory for potential presence of mercury is in place for all waters of the state.
The following groundwater information is for Sauk County (from Protecting Wisconsin’s Groundwater through Comprehensive Planning website, http://wi.water.usgs.gov/gwcomp/), which roughly approximates to the Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed.
There are no municipal water systems that have developed wellhead protection plans within the Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed. However, Sauk County has adopted an animal waste management ordinance.
From 1979 to 2005, total water use in Sauk County has increased from 10.5 million gallons per day to 26.4 million gallons per day. The increase in total water use over this period is due primarily to increases in industrial, irrigation, commercial, and domestic uses. Irrigation use increased significantly over this period while industrial declined slightly after 1995. The proportion of county water use supplied by groundwater has been consistently around 99% during the period 1979 to 2005.
Eighty-four percent of 1,012 private well samples collected in Sauk County from 1990 to 2006 met the health-based drinking water limit for nitrate-nitrogen. An analysis of over 35,000 Wisconsin drinking water samples found that drinking water from private wells was three times more likely to be unsafe to drink due to high nitrate in agricultural areas than in forested areas. High nitrate levels were also more common in sandy areas where the soil is more permeable. In Wisconsin’s groundwater, 80% of nitrate inputs originate from manure spreading, agricultural fertilizers, and legume cropping systems.
A 2002 study estimated that 43% of private drinking water wells in the region of Wisconsin that includes Sauk County contained a detectable level of an herbicide or herbicide metabolite. Pesticides occur in groundwater more commonly in agricultural regions, but can occur anywhere pesticides are stored or applied. A total of 38,704 acres of land in Sauk County are in atrazine prohibition areas. All three private well samples collected in Sauk County met the health standard for arsenic.
Potential Sources of Contamination
Three licensed landfills are located in the Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed: the Reedsburg Foundry, a Sauk County operated landfill in the town of Excelsior, and a Construction and Demolition (C&D) landfill owned by the US Army Badger Ammunition Plant outside of Baraboo. The Badger Ammunition Plant is currently the site of demolition and remediation projects being conducted in preparation for property transfer. The landfill located in Excelsior is also designated as a Superfund site and is the only one within the watershed. No Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are located within the watershed.
Monitoring & Projects
Projects including grants, restoration work and studies shown below have occurred in this watershed. Click the links below to read through the text. While these are not an exhaustive list of activities, they provide insight into the management activities happening in this watershed.
There have been ten stations monitored by one independent volunteer stream monitor and the Baraboo Middle School in the LW22-Narrows Creek Watershed from 2002 through 2007. All ten stations were monitored for dissolved oxygen, pH, instantaneous temperature and transparency, using Level 1 procedures and entered in the WAV database On average, stations in the watershed were monitored monthly from May through October.(http://www.uwex.edu/erc/wavdb/).
Generally, dissolved oxygen levels in the watershed were sufficient to sustain aquatic life. Levels ranged from 6.3-10mg/l. Only one field event at Pine Creek at County Highway W, CBSM-10008346 dipped below ideal levels with a measurement of 4.2mg/l on 10/19/2004.
Throughout the monitoring seasons, volunteers collected pH measurements within state standards (which range from 6 to 9) ranging from 7.69 to 8.25. Temperature measurements, used to classify streams as cold, cool or warm water habitats, and which are indicative of the ability of a habitat to sustain aquatic species were recorded at all stations each season. Maximum instantaneous temperatures were less than 25°C for most streams; suggesting they may be cold water streams. Narrows Creek at Valley Bridge Road, CBSM-10032020 was measured at 26.7°C during the only field event at this station on 06/13/2007; classifying it as a cool water stream.
Stream transparency measurements indicated good water quality with over 72% of the fourteen field events measured less than 10 NTU. None of the remaining 28% measured greater than 240 NTU.
Citizen Stream Monitoring
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.
Monitor biology on WBIC: 5030462
Conduct biological (mIBI or fIBI) monitoring on Unnamed, WBIC: 5030462, AU:5728332
Skillet Creek TP
Category 2. 2018 TP Results: May Exceed. Station: 10008327. AU: 12988.
Pine Creek TP
New Category 2 based on fish. 2018 TP Results: May Exceed. Station: 10008346. AU: 12989.
The small waterfall on Skillet Creek should be examined for restoration and/or tourism potential.
Water Plans and PartnershipsRead the Watershed Plan
Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed (LW22) Draft Water Quality Management Plan
Date 2011 Watershed History Note
One of the well known landmarks in the Narrows Creek and Baraboo River Watershed in Sauk County is the Van Hise Rock, which was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1999. The Van Hise Rock is located in the Baraboo Range, which now contains hills 700 to 800 feet high, but once those hills may have risen 1000 to 1600 feet above the surrounding plain. The material of this rock was once sand on the sea bottom and has since hardened into quartzite. The ripple marks caused by wave actions are still visible on the surrounding cliffs. The Rock was tilted to the present position by a slow earth movement, and then separated from the adjacent cliff by erosion. The vertical light and dark bands represent the original layers. This rock is pictured in geology books as a type illustrating important principles of structural geology, and has been a point of special interest to many investigators in geology visiting this region.
The rock is named in honor of University of Wisconsin Professor Charles R.Van Hise (1857-1918), renowned geologist, conservationist and President of the University of Wisconsin. In the 1890s, Van Hise used this outcrop to demonstrate the kinds of changes that occur in rocks during periods of mountain formation. Van Hise's observations of the Baraboo Hills would help to develop his ground-breaking concepts of structural and metamorphic geology. Later, these concepts would be universally accepted as the principles of structural geology