Watershed - Lower East Branch Pecatonica Rivers (SP03)
Lower East Branch Pecatonica Rivers Watershed

Details

The Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed straddles northwest Green County and northeast Lafayette County and encompasses a drainage area of about 145 square miles. Agriculture dominates the landscape, making up 75% of the land cover in the watershed. Broadleaf deciduous woods and grasslands make up the balance of the land cover. Some high quality wetlands exist along the East Branch Pecatonica River, including oxbow lakes, shallow water marsh, lowland forest, and southern sedge meadow wetland complexes. Blanchardville and Argyle are the only concentrated population centers in the watershed which contains over 180 miles of streams. Segments of five streams (Apple Branch, Braezels Branch, Cherry Branch, Dougherty Creek, and Jockey Hollow Creek) are on the state's 303(d) list of impaired waters – all due to habitat loss from sedimentation. All or segments of 6 streams (Apple Branch, Dougherty Creek, Erickson Creek, Mud Branch, Sawmill Creek, and Whiteside Creek) are designated as Class II trout waters (WDNR, 2003).

Date  2010

Population, Land Use

The dominant land use in the watershed is agriculture (76%) followed by forest (16%) (Table 1). The trends in agriculture toward fewer dairy farms with reduced need for alfalfa and pasture means many of those acres are being replaced with corn and soybeans. In steeply sloping areas of the state, this inevitably means higher rates of runoff of soil and nutrients. Upland acreage in this watershed historically enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) beginning in the late 1980’s and continuing through the 1990’s meant that fewer and smaller sediment and nutrient loads from farm fields found their way to rivers and streams. The program required taking cropland out of production and planting it to grasses. Many of these contracts have—and continue to—expire(d), meaning they will become sources of sediment and nutrients again, particularly if they are used primarily for corn and soybean production, as is the case in much of Wisconsin.

Date  2011

Nonpoint and Point Sources

In 1992, the department along with the Green and Lafayette County Land Conservation Departments began working with landowners to reduce nonpoint sources of water pollution through a priority watershed (PWS) project. Land owners could voluntarily install best management practices (BMPs) designed to reduce soil loss, nutrient loads, and erosion of streambanks. A pre-PWS study conducted by the land conservation departments reported that about 70 % of the sediment deposited in streams annually is derived from agricultural upland erosion, 23 % originates from streambank erosion, and 10% from gullies. The study also determined that about ¼ of the 370 barnyards evaluated contributed 70% of the organic pollutants that reach creeks (WDNR, 1992). Over the 14 year implementation period of the project, nearly $2 million was spent on cost sharing management practices. Over 150 contracts were signed for various practices including streambank rip rap, fencing, grassed waterways, and barnyard runoff control systems (Green Co. LCD, 2005, Lafayette Co. LCD, 2005). The effect of these projects in improving overall water quality was admittedly difficult to ascertain. The counties reported that sites which included improvements in streambank stabilization and habitat development seemed to show the most positive responsive (ibid). An assessment of the Galena River Priority Watershed Project indicated the project resulted in “little to no improvement on a watershed wide basis” (Kroner, et.al., 1992). The report also reported that non-point source best management practices which were installed were “moderately effective in reducing non-point source pollution and improving water quality”. The report listed three factors that were believed to be responsible for the marginal watershed wide improvement. First, there were relatively low levels of participation by landowners. Second, the large size of the watershed was a factor, particularly when considering the lack of participation. Third, the effects of uncontrolled upstream non-point source pollution sources that have the potential to over-shadow any beneficial effects obtained by implemented BMPs. The primary lessons learned from the Galena River priority watershed project were that non-point source BMPs work, but that one or two bad uncontrolled upstream sites can negate the water quality improvements of installed BMPs. CAFOs Cotton Wood Dairy LLC runs a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) at 9600 Highway D, just northwest of South Wayne. The facility has a permit to discharge animal waste water to a tributary of the Pecatonica River through groundwater.

Date  2011

Ecological Landscapes for Lower East Branch Pecatonica Rivers Watershed

Ecological Landscapes

The Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape is located in the far southwestern part of the state. It is characterized by deeply dissected topography, unglaciated for the last 2.4 million years, with broad open hilltops and river valleys, and steep wooded slopes. The climate is favorable for agriculture but the steep slopes limit it to the hilltops and valley bottoms. Soils are underlain with calcareous bedrock. Soils on hilltops are silty loams, sometimes of shallow depth over exposed bedrock and stony red clay subsoil. Some valley soils are alluvial sands, loams, and peats. Some hilltops are almost treeless due to the thin soil while others have a deep silt loam cap. Historic vegetation consisted of tall prairie grasses and forbs with oak savannas and some wooded slopes of oak. Almost three-quarters of the current vegetation is agricultural crops with lesser amounts of grasslands, barrens, and urban areas. The major forest types are oak-hickory and maple-basswood. High-quality prairie remnants occur on rocky hilltops and slopes that are not farmed. Some prairie pastures and oak savannas still exist. The grassland areas harbor many rare grassland birds, invertebrates, and other grassland species. Relict stands of pine occur on bedrock outcroppings along some stream systems.

Date  2010

Hydrologic Features

Groundwater and surface water resources in the watershed are interconnected. Small streams originate from springs and groundwater seepage. These tributary streams combine to form larger streams and so on. During dry periods, most of these tributary streams continue flowing as “baseflow”. This phenomenon is the reason most of our cold-water trout streams exist. However, this watershed hosts a diversity of thermal regimes. So much so that for a recent study, fisheries assemblages were used to determine which streams were appropriately assessed by the warm water Index of Biotic Integrity (WWIBI) or the coldwater Index of Biotic Integrity (CWIBI). The watershed streams in the relatively steep terrain of the driftless area are characteristically “flashy” in that they rise and fall fairly rapidly. This typical cycle following storm events complicates the evaluation of aquatic life condition, as each storm provides an opportunity or ‘cause’ for losing established fish species. Large event storms inevitably bring with them tons of sediment from upstream portions of the watershed, which are then deposited in the downstream waters. Segments of five streams (Apple Branch, Braezels Branch, Cherry Branch, Dougherty Creek, and Jockey Hollow Creek) are on the state’s 303(d) list of impaired waters – all due to habitat loss from sedimentation. All or segments of six streams (Apple Branch, Dougherty Creek, Erickson Creek, Mud Branch, Sawmill Creek, and Whiteside Creek) are designated as Class II trout waters (WDNR, 2003).

Date  2011

Lower East Branch Pecatonica Rivers Watershed At-a-Glance

Impaired Water in Lower East Branch Pecatonica Rivers Watershed
River and Stream QualityAll Waters in Watershed

According to the WDNR’s Register of Waterbodies (ROW) database, there are 540 miles of streams and rivers in the Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed; 125 miles of these waters have been entered into the WDNR’s assessment database. Of these 125 miles, more than one-half (53%) are meeting Fish and Aquatic Life uses and are specified as in “good” condition; while another 25% of these miles are not supporting Fish and Aquatic Life. The condition of the remaining stream miles is not known or documented. Overall, streams in the East Branch Pecatonica River watershed do not appear to have shown appreciable improvement over the past 20 years. Streams designated as trout water score "'poor" or "very poor" on the coldwater IBI scale. The warm water streams range from “very poor” to “fair”. It should be noted that many streams in the driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin are transitional coolwater systems (ie. either cool-cold or cool-warm). Therefore, the current suit of biotic matrices may not be entirely appropriate for evaluating these systems which fall between warm and cold (Lyons, et. al., 2009). While macroinvertebrate data continues to show good water quality from an organic loading standpoint, the macroinvertebrate IBI indicates degradation to the habitat. Certain local improvements can be noticed where habitat work was completed. Mud Branch, Sawmill Creek, and the upper portions of Dougherty Creek are designated as trout waters and their data shows them to be fair to poor quality cold/cool water systems as indicated by the lack of cool/coldwater indicators and low coldwater IBI scores. Although some improvements agricultural practices have been made over the past 2 decades, such as enrollment of highly erodible lands in set-aside programs, row cropping, contour plowing, and fewer and improved barnyards, the general water and habitat quality of systems in this watershed continue to be restricted by nonpoint source pollution and by in-stream sediment loads exacerbated by historic and continuing agricultural practices. The factors which have contributed to the five streams being on the state’s list of impaired waters have not changed substantially. Therefore they should remain on the list until major watershed-wide improvements to land use and farming practices are made and improvements in stream quality can be quantified. Additionally, because of the low diversity and numbers of fish found in Trotter Branch, biologists should do further monitoring to determine if this stream should be added to the 303(d) list.

Date  2011

Watershed Trout Streams
Watershed Outstanding & Exceptional Resources

Lakes and Impoundments

The WDNR’s ROW database shows that there are over 15 acres of lakes and ponds and another 92 acres of unspecified open water in the Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed. A total of 64 lake acres have been entered into the state’s assessment database; none of which have been assessed for Fish and Aquatic Life use support. All lakes within the watershed are less than five acres in size, including the only named lake, Bloody Lake.

Date  2011

Wetland Health

Wetland Status The Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed straddles northwest Green County and northeast Lafayette County and encompasses a drainage area of about 153 square miles. Some high quality wetlands exist along the East Branch Pecatonica River, including oxbow lakes, shallow water marsh, lowland forest, and southern sedge meadow wetland complexes. Wetlands compromise 1.7% of the current land uses in the watershed. It is estimated that about 53% of the original wetlands in the watershed currently exist. Of these wetlands, emergent wetlands (67%), which include wet meadows and marshes, and forested wetlands (21%) 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 81% of the existing emergent wetlands, which include wet meadows and marshes, and 11% of the remaining shrub wetlands. Reed Canary Grass domination inhibits successful establishment of native wetland species. Wetland Restorability Of the 1,419 acres of estimated lost wetlands in the watershed, approximately 99% are considered potentially restorable based on modeled data, including soil types, land use and land cover (Chris Smith, DNR, 2009).

Date  2010

Impaired Waters

Several streams within the watershed suffer from degraded habitat due to total suspended solids, including Apple Branch, Braezels Branch, Cherry Branch, Dougherty Creek, Prairie Brook, and Jockey Hollow Creek. Excess total phosphorus is also leading to low dissolved oxygen levels in Dougherty Creek.

Date  2011

List of Impaired Waters

Aquatic Invasive Species

Sawmill Creek hosts a population of rusty crayfish and Three-spine stickleback have been documented in Mud Branch since 2003.

Date  2011

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.

Date  2011

Groundwater

The following groundwater information is for Green and Lafayette counties (from Protecting Wisconsin’s Groundwater through Comprehensive Planning website, http://wi.water.usgs.gov/gwcomp/), which roughly approximates to the Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed. Argyle is the only municipal water system in the Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed that has a wellhead protection plan. Both Green and Lafayette Counties have adopted an animal waste management ordinance. From 1979 to 2005, total water use in Green County has increased from 6.8 million gallons per day to 8.8 million gallons per day. The increase in total water use is due primarily to an increase in irrigation. The proportion of county water use supplied by groundwater has consistently been about 97% during the period 1979 to 2005. During the same time period, total water use in Lafayette County has decreased from about 4.1 million gallons per day to 3.1 million gallons per day due primarily to decreases in domestic use, as well as public use and losses. The proportion of county water use supplied by groundwater has been consistently above about 95% during the period 1979 to 2000 and 91% in 2005. Private Wells Eighty-seven percent of 974 private well samples collected in Green County and 85% of 600 private well samples collected in Lafayette County from 1990-2006 met the health-based drinking water limit for nitrate-nitrogen. Land use affects nitrate concentrations in groundwater. 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% to 62% of private drinking water wells in the region of Wisconsin that includes the Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed 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 21,163 acres of land in Green County are in atrazine prohibition areas. All 10 private well samples collected in Green County and 94% of 17 private well samples collected in Lafayette County met the health standard for arsenic. Potential Sources of Contamination There is one concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFOs) in the Lower East Branch Pecatonica River Watershed, located just northwest of South Wayne. The facility has a permit to discharge animal waste water to a tributary of the Pecatonica River through groundwater. No licensed landfills or Superfund sites are located within the watershed.

Date  2011

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

An assessment of the general biological status of the watershed was conducted in order to a) fulfill the obligations of the PWS plan by evaluating changes in water quality using the biologic community as an indicator and comparing this to pre-project conditions and b) update the watershed and individual streams information normally found in the basin plans. Overall, the biotic community does not appear to show any improvements on a watershed-wide basis. Normally for such an evaluation, sites would be chosen at random to ensure a range of stream orders and non-biased site evaluation. However, most of the randomly chosen sites would be evaluated from the nearest bridge crossing anyway. This study looked at the major named streams at sites ranging from 2nd to 4th order. The only component that was missing was potential sites on 1st or 2nd order unnamed streams. Overall, streams in the East Branch Pecatonica River watershed do not appear to have shown appreciable improvement over the past 20 years. Streams designated as trout water are with poor or very poor on the coldwater IBI scale. The warm water streams range from very poor to fair. It should be noted that many streams in the driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin are transitional coolwater sytems (ie. either cool-cold or cool-warm). Therefore, the current suit of biotic matrices may not be entirely appropriate for evaluating these systems which fall between warm and cold (Lyons, et. al., 2009). While macroinvertebrate data continues to show good water quality from an organic loading standpoint, the macroinvertebrate IBI indicates degradation to the habitat. Certain local improvements can be noticed where habitat work was completed. Other streams in the watershed were assessed within the past 5 years, but not included as part of this project for that reason. Mud Branch, Sawmill Creek, and the upper portions of Dougherty Creek have been studied for other purposes. All three of these are designated as trout waters and their data (included in Appendix A) shows them to be fair to poor quality cold/cool water systems as indicated by the lack of cool/coldwater indicators and low coldwater IBI scores. Although some improvements agricultural practices have been made over the past 2 decades such as enrollment of highly erodible lands in set-aside programs, row cropping, contour plowing, and fewer and improved barnyards, the general water and habitat quality of systems in this watershed continue to be restricted by nonpoint source pollution and by in stream sediment loads exacerbated by historic and continuing agricultural practices. The factors which have contributed to the five streams being on the state’s list of impaired waters have not changed substantially. Therefore they should remain on the list until major watershed-wide improvements to land use and farming practices are made and improvements in stream quality can be quantified. Additionally, because of the low diversity and numbers of fish found in Trotter Branch, biologists should do further monitoring to determine if this stream should be added to the 303(d) list.

Date  2010

Volunteer Monitoring

There has been one station monitored by at least two Volunteer Stream Monitors in the SP03-Lower E Branch Pecatonica from 2003 through 2009. The station has been monitored for biotic index, flow, dissolved oxygen, instantaneous temperature and transparency using Level 1 procedures, and results are entered in the WAV database (http://www.uwex.edu/erc/wavdb/). On average, the station in the watershed was monitored monthly from May through October; however it was also monitored occasionally over the winter months. Volunteers collect macroinvertebrates twice a year to determine a biotic index for each stream monitored. Streams are considered in poor quality if biotic index is between 1.0-2.0, fair quality if between 2.1-2.5, and in good quality if the index is between 2.6-3.5. Overall, biotic index values rated streams in the watershed to be in fair to good quality (ranging from 2.2-3.0). Generally, volunteers recorded dissolved oxygen levels in the watershed were sufficient to sustain aquatic life. They ranged from 6 to 15 mg/l. Throughout the monitoring seasons, volunteers collected pH measurements primarily within state standards (which range from 6 to 9) ranging from 6.5 to 8.0. 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 manually recorded throughout a season. Maximum instantaneous temperatures were below 25°C for all streams using this method; suggesting they may be cold water streams. Stream transparency measurements indicated poor water quality with only 20% of the twenty-six field measurements less than 10 NTU. Seven of the remaining 80% measured greater than 240 NTU.

Date  2012

Lower East Branch Pecatonica Rivers Watershed
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
 
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 Water Quality or Sediment
Mud Branch Temp
Date
Status
It had habitat work, but doesn't show much progress. Fish manager thinks it might be transitioning out of trout water. Will put a monitor in to see what temps are. Don't list at this time. AU: 13702; Station ID: 10010748
5/1/2018
Proposed
 
TMDL Implementation
Silver Spring, Cherry Branch, and Apple Branch TMDLs
Date
Status
Source identification, load estimates and reduction goal development -- Silver Spring, Cherry Branch, and Apple Branch sub-watersheds
10/3/2009
In Progress
Projects
 
Lower East Branch Pecatonica Rivers WatershedWater Plans and PartnershipsRead the Watershed Plan

Lower East Branch Pecatonica River (SP03) Draft Water Quality Management Plan

Date  2011

Watershed History Note

The Village of Argyle, in the Lower East Branch of the Pecatonica watershed, has a long history with the Pecatonica River. First, the village was the site of a convenient ford for crossing the East Branch Pecatonica River. The first settler named it after the Duke of Argyll who had sponsored his coming to the United States. The village's original settlers were dominantly from New England, Norway and Ireland. In 1855, a mill was built on the river for the purpose of grinding flour. Special millstones called French Burr stones were imported from outside Paris, France, and were considered the best by all millers for milling fine flour. These stones were recently found with the help of a local homeowner and are now on display in the village.

Date  2010