Watershed - Upper Willow River (SC03)
Upper Willow River Watershed

Details

The Upper Willow River Watershed is located in northern St. Croix and southern Polk counties. The watershed is 117,551 acres in size and includes 319 miles of streams and rivers, 516 acres of lakes and 5,595 acres of wetlands. The watershed is dominated by agriculture (48%), grassland (30%) and forest (16%). The watershed is ranked high for nonpoint source issues affecting groundwater.

Date  2010

Population, Land Use

Population and Land Use Approximately 72% of the combined watershed areas lie in St. Croix County. This county was one of the most rapidly-growing areas in the state in the 1990s. Census date for 1990 projected a population of 50, 251 for the entire county (including other watersheds). In 2000, the county population was estimated at 63,155, which is a 26% increase over the decade. A similar increase within the Willow watersheds hydrologic boundaries would be expected over the same time period, especially with the larger communities of New Richmond and Hudson located in the watersheds. The increase was likely from new suburban and rural residential and commercial development from the expanding Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota. The percent breakdown of land use and cover throughout the two watersheds, based on 2001 National Land Use Cover data provided by the United States Geologic Survey are described below. The watersheds are very similar with agriculture being the main use in both basins (56% in the Lower Willow and 66% in the Upper). The Lower Watershed has more open water in streams and impoundments (10%), and more urban and suburban land use (totaling 5%) with the two larger communities of Hudson and New Richmond. The Upper Watershed has more agricultural land, but less urban land cover and open water. Forest and wetland percentages are nearly the same in each watershed.

Date  2010

Nonpoint and Point Sources

The Upper Willow River Watershed was selected as a priority watershed as part of the Wisconsin Nonpoint Source Pollution Abatement Program in 1981. A priority watershed plan was completed in 1982 which identified sources of nonpoint source pollution. The water quality objectives for the project were: 1. Reduce sediment deposition in the stream channels and the New Richmond Flowage. 2. Seek protection of groundwater resources from contamination by surface water entering through sink holes. 3. Reduce the potential for fish toxicity from ammonia by controlling livestock waste entering the streams. 4. Coordinate the New Richmond Flowage rehabilitation project with the watershed project. A bioassessment of the watershed project was conducted by a WRM - Central Office team. The conclusion of the bioassessment report was that they were unable to document any water quality improvements in the watershed as a result of implementing the priority watershed project. Base line water quality data did not exist and there was a very low level of participation by landowners with nonpoint source pollution problems in the watershed.

Date  1992

Ecological Landscapes for Upper Willow River Watershed

Ecological Landscapes

The Upper Willow River Watershed is located primarily in the Western Prairie Ecological Landscape which is located on the far western edge of the state just south of the Tension Zone; it contains the only true representative prairie potholes in the state. It is characterized by its glaciated, rolling topography and a primarily open landscape with rich prairie soils and pothole lakes, ponds, and wet depressions, except for forested areas along the St. Croix River. The climate and growing season are favorable for agricultural crops. Sandstone underlies a mosaic of soils. Silty loams that can be shallow and stony cover most of the area. Alluvial sands and peats are found in stream valleys. Historic vegetation was comprised of dry to mesic prairie grasses in the rolling areas and wet prairies in the broad depressions. Open oak savannas and barrens were found on the hilly topography, with small inclusions of sugar maple-basswood forest in small steep sites. Prairie pothole type wetlands were mainly found in St. Croix and Polk counties. Barrens were found along the river terraces of the St. Croix River. Almost half of the current vegetation is agricultural crops and almost a third of the area is grasslands, with smaller areas of open water, open wetlands, and urban areas. The major forest types are maple-basswood and oak-hickory, with smaller amounts of lowland hardwoods and lowland conifer.

Date  2010

Hydrologic Features

Karst geology (terrain usually characterized by barren, rocky ground, caves, sinkholes, underground rivers, and the absence of surface streams and lakes) is found within the watershed. The underlying limestone bedrock can be fissured and represent a threat to groundwater. There are intermittent streams that actually disappear into the ground. Careful land use practices and well construction in particular are needed in areas with karst formations.

Date  2010

Fisheries

There are several Class II and Class III trout waters in these watersheds (all in St. Croix County except as noted): Black Brook (Polk County); the North Fork, South Fork and mainstem of the Willow; the Willow Race Branch; Wolf Creek; Hutton Creek; 10-Mile Creek; and Hennesy Springs.

Date  2010

Upper Willow River Watershed At-a-Glance

Impaired Water in Upper Willow River Watershed
River and Stream QualityAll Waters in Watershed

The upper mainstem of the Willow (also called the North Fork) is Class III / II trout water. The subwatershed is heavily influenced by wetlands and agriculture. The fishery leans toward tolerant, warmwater species. There is a small section of Class II trout water in Cylon Wildlife Area that supports a remnant population of wild brook trout. Better conservation practices would benefit water quality in the headwaters.

Date  2010

Watershed Trout Streams
Watershed Outstanding & Exceptional Resources

Lakes and Impoundments

Within the Upper Willow watershed lies Bass Lake, which contains Eurasian Water Milfoil, and nearby Lake St. Croix has zebra mussels. Other species in Willow watershed lakes include Curly Leaf Pondweed, Rusty Crayfish, and Chinese Mystery Snails. Vigilant efforts are needed to stop the gradual spread throughout the watersheds and lakes in the region.

Date  2010

Wetland Health

Wetland Status The Willow River Watershed extends from northeastern St. Croix County northward into southeastern Polk County. The watershed is situated within the St. Croix Basin. An estimated 4% of the current land uses in the watershed are wetlands. Almost 52% of the original wetlands in the watershed are estimated to exist. Of these wetlands, forested wetlands (41%) and emergent wetlands (33%), which include wet meadows and marshes, dominate the landscape. Wetland Condition Little is known about the condition of the remaining wetlands but estimates of reed canary grass 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 63% of the existing emergent wetlands and 24% of the remaining shrub wetlands. Reed Canary Grass domination inhibits successful establishment of native wetland species. Wetland Restorability Of the 4,013 acres of estimated lost wetlands in the watershed, approximately 97% are considered potentially restorable based on modeled data, including soil types, land use and land cover (Chris Smith, DNR, 2009).

Date  2010

Potentially Restorable Wetland Analysis

Wetland Health

Wetland Status The Upper Willow River Watershed extends from northeastern St. Croix County northward into southeastern Polk County. The watershed is situated within the St. Croix Basin. An estimated 4% of the current land uses in the watershed are wetlands. Almost 52% of the original wetlands in the watershed are estimated to exist. Of these wetlands, forested wetlands (41%) and emergent wetlands (33%), which include wet meadows and marshes, dominate the landscape. Wetland Condition Little is known about the condition of the remaining wetlands but estimates of reed canary grass 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 63% of the existing emergent wetlands and 24% of the remaining shrub wetlands. Reed Canary Grass domination inhibits successful establishment of native wetland species. Wetland Restorability Of the 4,013 acres of estimated lost wetlands in the watershed, approximately 97% are considered potentially restorable based on modeled data, including soil types, land use and land cover (Chris Smith, DNR, 2009).

Date  2010

Potentially Restorable Wetland Analysis

Impaired Waters

A segment of the Willow River below New Richmond is listed as impaired. The approximate two-mile long segment of the Willow mainstem (from 100th Street to 140th Avenue) is listed as impaired for low dissolved oxygen, caused by Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and phosphorus.

Date  2010

List of Impaired Waters

Groundwater

Groundwater is an important, yet often undervalued resource in the Willow River watersheds, and the entire St. Croix Basin, as it is the sole source of drinking water to residents in the Basin and recharges over 100 trout streams and countless lakes within the watershed. Once contaminated, groundwater may take many years and potentially large monetary resources to clean.

Date  2010

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.

Monitoring Studies

Lakes Baseline Trends Monitoring is being conducted for many of the Willow River watersheds’ lakes. In addition, monitoring designed to target high priority waters and issue areas is also underway. Stream water quality monitoring covering primarily biological, chemical, and habitat related monitoring to deter­mine ambient conditions at “pour point” locations for each of state’s 330 watersheds. Loon monitoring is also being conducted on Bass Lake, Oak Ridge Lake, and Perch Lake. The Citizen Lake Monitoring Network, the core of the Wiscon­sin Lakes Partnership, involves over 1000 citizen volunteers statewide. The goals are to collect high quality data, to educate and empower volunteers, and to share this data and knowledge. Volunteers measure water clarity, using the Secchi Disk method, as an indicator of water quality. This information is then used to determine the lakes trophic state. Volunteers may also collect chemistry, temperature, and dissolved oxygen data, as well as identify and map plants, watch for the first appearance of Eurasian Water Milfoil near boat landings, or or alert officials about zebra mussel invasions on Wisconsin lakes. This network is also conducting ice observations on Lake Mallalieu. Fisheries projects include a wide variety of “baseline” monitoring and targeted fieldwork to gain specific knowl­edge related to Wisconsin’s fish communities. A study of the Lake Mallileau fisheries was conducted and a report published in 2001 by the WDNR.

Date  2010

Grants and Management Projects
Upper Willow River Watershed
Watershed Recommendations
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
 
Date
Status
All resource agency staff, recreational users and the public need to remain vigilant to prevent the spread of both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Hire County Aquatic Invasives Coordinator
 
Date
Status
Hire Aquatic Invasives (AIS) County Coordinator - Barron
1/1/2011
Not Proposed
Projects
 
Information and Education
 
Date
Status
Expand outreach on habitat improvement and protection, invasive species control, climate change factors and preventive measures, etc.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Information and Education
 
Date
Status
Continue efforts to inform the public on the goal to reduce phosphorus inputs to Lake Mallalieu and Lake St. Croix, thus reducing the inputs into the Willow River, which both lakes feed.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Information and Education
 
Date
Status
Develop effective tools for conveying actions that can be taken by private citizens, industries, agriculture, municipalities, commercial and professional groups, etc.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Information and Education
 
Date
Status
Continued efforts are needed to raise awareness of karst geology to protect groundwater and human health.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Monitor Fish Community
 
Date
Status
Continue long-term monitoring of fisheries and habitat to track trends and develop further lake and fisheries management recommendations.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Monitor Water Quality or Sediment
New Richmond Flowage; Mary Park Beach E.coli
Date
Status
Highly variable results over five year period. Will revisit in 2020 when there is more data. AU: 3894231; Station ID: 10017346
5/1/2018
Proposed
Projects
 
Monitor Watershed (Status,Sources,Impairments)
 
Date
Status
Critical habitat surveys and reports should be completed on lakes and streams where habitat, native plant beds, and public rights features need to be inventoried and management recommendations developed.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Monitor Watershed (Status,Sources,Impairments)
 
Date
Status
Basic waters inventory monitoring should be conducted on the seven waters so designated in this watershed.
1/1/2010
Verify
Projects
 
Stormwater Planning, Implementation
 
Date
Status
Water temperature should be safeguarded to protect trout waters from gradual warming. Infiltrating stormwater to the groundwater for eventual stream recharge is one method. Protecting wetlands for their filtering function is another.
10/6/2010
Proposed
 
Upper Willow River WatershedWater Plans and Partnerships

A watershed plan has been updated for this watershed in 2010 and is now available for review.

Date  2010

Watershed History Note

The Village of Clear Lake, in Polk County, is located within the Upper Willow River watershed. Today Clear Lake is well known as the boyhood home of Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Christiana, Norway, and claimed a homestead allotment in Polk County in 1878, supplementing their farm income with work at a local timber mill. Nelson, born on June 4, 1916, had the county's many lakeshores for a playground. Poverty and pollution marred the Nelson's hometown of Clear Lake. The region's vast white pine forest fell under the axes of Nelson's grandparents' generation, leaving a tattered landscape vulnerable to fire and repellent to capital investment. The Great Depression brought itinerant laborers to the Nelsons' doorstep and stirred up radicalism in the county's farmers, some of whom went on strike in 1933, closing down the local creamery. The Works Progress Administration launched projects in the region, building roads, draining wetlands, and constructing the town's first sewer system. Nelson took a job shoveling stone on a WPA crew after graduating from high school in 1934, and he would later regret the destruction of natural habitats and degradation of fresh water he helped bring about in the name of progress. Nelson followed his older sisters to San José State University, majoring in economics. While taking time to explore the diverse regions of California, Nelson returned to Clear Lake each summer to work in a cannery. After finishing his degree, he headed to study law at the University of Wisconsin. Captivated more by politics than legal precedent, he spent most of his energy serving as president of the university's Young Progressives and volunteering on political campaigns. His own political career was forestalled by World War II. In 1942 he was drafted directly out of law school into the Army, where he made first lieutenant, trained as a medical technician, commanded a segregated black company, and spent the balance of the war stationed in Okinawa, where he met his future wife, Carrie Lee Dotson. Nelson went on to a stellar career in both state and national politics, and the environmental lessons he learned as a boy in Clear Lake were critical to the creation of Earth Day in 1970.

Date  2010