Holcombe Flowage South, Holcombe Flowage Watershed (UC01)
Holcombe Flowage South, Holcombe Flowage Watershed (UC01)
Holcombe Flowage South (2184900)
1219.40 Acres
Natural Community
Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results that use predicted flow and temperature based on landscape features and related assumptions. Ranges of flow and temperature associated with specific aquatic life communities (fish, macroinvertebrates) help biologists identify appropriate resource management goals. Wisconsin Natural Communities.
Impounded Flowing Water
Year Last Monitored
This is the most recent date of monitoring data stored in SWIMS. Additional surveys for fish and habitat may be available subsequent to this date.
Trout Water 
Trout Waters are represented by Class I, Class II or Class III waters. These classes have specific ecological characteristics and management actions associated with them. For more information regarding Trout Classifications, see the Fisheries Trout Class Webpages.
Outstanding or Exceptional 
Wisconsin has designated many of the state's highest quality waters as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs) or Exceptional Resource Waters (ERWs). Waters designated as ORW or ERW are surface waters which provide outstanding recreational opportunities, support valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat, have good water quality, and are not significantly impacted by human activities. ORW and ERW status identifies waters that the State of Wisconsin has determined warrant additional protection from the effects of pollution. These designations are intended to meet federal Clean Water Act obligations requiring Wisconsin to adopt an 'antidegradation' policy that is designed to prevent any lowering of water quality - especially in those waters having significant ecological or cultural value.
Impaired Water 
A water is polluted or 'impaired' if it does not support full use by humans, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life and it is shown that one or more of the pollutant criteria are not met.

Fish and Aquatic Life

Current Use
The use the water currently supports. This is not a designation or classification; it is based on the current condition of the water. Information in this column is not designed for, and should not be used for, regulatory purposes.
Impounded Flowing Water
This classification includes waterbodies created by dams (mill ponds, reservoirs, flowages, and other impoundments) with a residence time of 14 days or more (under summer (June – Sept) mean low flow conditions with a 1 in 10 year recurrence interval (US EPA 2000)). Many natural lakes also have dams or water level control structures. However, to be included in the Impounded Flowing Waters category, the dam or water level control structure, must account for more than half of a waterbody’s maximum depth. Impoundments with a residence time of less than 14 days should be covered under the rivers and stream assessment methodology process.
Attainable Use
The use that the investigator believes the water could achieve through managing "controllable" sources. Beaver dams, hydroelectric dams, low gradient streams, and naturally occurring low flows are generally not considered controllable. The attainable use may be the same as the current use or it may be higher.
Streams capable of supporting a warm waterdependent sport fishery. Representative aquatic life communities associated with these waters generally require cool or warm temperatures and concentrations of dissolved oxygen that do not drop below 5 mg/L.
Designated Use
This is the water classification legally recognized by NR102 and NR104, Wis. Adm. Code. The classification determines water quality criteria and effluent limits. Waters obtain designated uses through classification procedures.
Default FAL
Fish and Aquatic Life - Default Waters do not have a specific use designation subcategory but are considered fishable, swimmable waters.


The Chippewa is one of the largest rivers in Wisconsin, with 103 miles from Holcombe dam downstream to the Mississippi. This section includes five flowages and 69 miles of free-flowing river. Dams owned/operated by Northern States Power create the flowages.

These flowages, in downstream order, include: Cornell Flowage (836 acres), Old Abe Lake (996 acres), Lake Wissota (approximately 6,212 acres), Chippewa Falls Flowage (282 acres), and Dells Pond (1,183 acres). The free-flowing river segments are present below the Cornell dam (approximately 1 mile), the Chippewa Falls dam (approximately 7 miles), and the Dells dam (61 miles).

At Holcombe, pH shows a trend similar to Chippewa Falls from the late 1970's to the late 1990's. Suspended solids appear to be increasing slightly as well. None of the other parameters mentioned above show a significant trend over time at the Holcombe site (Beaster 2000).

Date  2001

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Historical Description

Holcombe Flowage, created in 1950, is the most recently constructed reservoir on the
Chippewa River. The flowage is fed by the Chippewa, Flambeau, and Jump rivers and
numerous smaller streams. Due to the many streams and rivers entering it, and a wealth
of backwater habitat. Holcombe Flowage has some of the best habitat and probably the
greatest fishery potential of the lower Chippewa River flowages.
Holcombe Flowage is annually drawn down in late winter by as much as 10 feet to
provide capacity for spring runoff. This drawdown can result in lower levels of dissolved
oxygen, fish winterkill and fish entrapment in several backwater areas. Reduced oxygen
levels in pooled water environments may also occur naturally. WDNR believes that past
winter drawdowns at Holcombe Flowage exacerbated seasonal problems with low
dissolved oxygen levels and winter fishkills. Since the early 1980s. Northern States
Power (NSP) has fluctuated the reservoir level by two feet weekly starting in mid-winter.
This practice improved dissolved oxygen levels in backwater areas throughout the
winter. NSP has also delayed the late-winter drawdown to help prevent winterkill and
fish entrapment. NSP is currently examining the effects of this management regime on
water resources.

Larson, Nancy and Lisa Kosmond (Helmuth). 1996. Upper Chippewa River Basin Water Quality Management Plan.
PUBL-WR-345-96-REV. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  1996

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Holcombe Flowage South, Holcombe Flowage Watershed (UC01) Fish and Aquatic LifeHolcombe Flowage South, Holcombe Flowage Watershed (UC01) RecreationHolcombe Flowage South, Holcombe Flowage Watershed (UC01) Fish Consumption


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 2018. See also the 'monitoring and projects' tab.



Lake Management Plan Development
The Lake Holcombe Improvement Association, Inc. will conduct investigations to examine water quality conditions, nutrient/seston fluxes, aquatic macrophyte populations and water quality impacts of hydropower operations in Lake Holcombe. The relative importance o various internal and external nutrient loadings will be evaluated in relation to water quality conditions and phytoplankton biomass in the main basin of the lake and in backwater areas.
Monitor Fish Tissue

Management Goals

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 or implementation of a Total Maximum Daily Load analysis, a Nine Key Element Plan, or other restoration work, education and outreach and more. If specific recommendations exist for this water, they will be displayed below online.


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

Monitoring Projects

Monitoring Studies

A study of monthly water samples from the Chippewa at Chippewa Falls from 1961-1976 and 1988-1999, and Holcombe from 1977-1987 and 1996-1999 provides information on trends in water quality. In Chippewa Falls, pH, ammonia, chloride, and phosphorus levels have shown a significant change over time. The levels of pH appear to be showing greater fluctuation between extremes (5.5-9.0) in 1988-1999, than the lesser extremes (6.0-7.5) of 1961-1976. Greater pH fluctuations can generally be attributed to increasing levels of eutrophication. Ammonia and TP appear to be in decline since the early 1960's, likely due to stricter controls put in place by the Clean Water Act and regulations placing a 1 mg/L phosphorus limit on effluent from most WWTPs. Chlorides appear to be increasing due to increased use of road salt and WWTP discharges. Suspended solids, total kjeldahl nitrogen, nitrate-nitrogen, and dissolved phosphorus have not shown a significant change.

Date  2011

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Watershed Characteristics

Holcombe Flowage is located in the Holcombe Flowage watershed which is 170.38 mi². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (53.90%), wetland (23.30%) and a mix of open (9.10%) and other uses (13.70%). This watershed has 216.07 stream miles, 6,687.77 lake acres and 19,889.41 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked Not Ranked for runoff impacts on streams, Medium 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.

Natural Community

Holcombe Flowage South is considered a Impounded Flowing Water under the state's Natural Community Determinations.

Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results and DNR staff valiation processes that confirm or update predicted conditions based on flow and temperature modeling from historic and current landscape features and related variables. Predicated flow and temperatures for waters are associated predicated fish assemblages (communities). Biologists evaluate the model results against current survey data to determine if the modeled results are corect and whether biological indicators show water quaity degradation. This analysis is a core component of the state's resource management framework. Wisconsin's Riverine Natural Communities.

This classification includes waterbodies created by dams (mill ponds, reservoirs, flowages, and other impoundments) with a residence time of 14 days or more (under summer (June – Sept) mean low flow conditions with a 1 in 10 year recurrence interval (US EPA 2000)). Many natural lakes also have dams or water level control structures. However, to be included in the Impounded Flowing Waters category, the dam or water level control structure, must account for more than half of a waterbody’s maximum depth. Impoundments with a residence time of less than 14 days should be covered under the rivers and stream assessment methodology process.

Fisheries & Habitat

The 61 miles of the Chippewa below the Dells Dam to its confluence with the Mississippi represent some of the last remaining unimpounded large riverine habitat in the Upper Midwest. The average annual flow for the river is 4,343 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the Holcombe dam and 5,235 cfs at the Dells dam. Above the Dells dam, major tributaries include the Fisher and Yellow Rivers.

r Chippewa downstream from Dells Dam harbors 70% of the state's fish species and is one of the most diverse fisheries in the Upper Midwest (LCRSNA, 1999). Recent and historic fisheries assessments have documented the presence of many rare and unique fish species. Three species, crystal darter, goldeye, and black redhorse are on the state endangered species list. Four species, paddlefish, blue sucker, river redhorse and greater redhorse are on the state’s threatened species list and the, western sand darter, american eel, mud darter and lake sturgeon are on the states special concern list.

Common gamefish in this section of river include smallmouth bass, walleye, sauger, northern pike, muskellunge, lake sturgeon, channel and flathead catfish (Benike, 2000). Other common non-game fish species include shorthead, silver and golden redhorse, smallmouth and bigmouth buffalo, carpsuckers, mooneye and gizzard shad (Benike, 2000). Currently, no commercial fishing is allowed in the Lower Chippewa River. Past commercial fishing, primarily for buffalo, resulted in the incidental catch of paddlefish and sturgeon. No fish stocking occurs in the free-flowing sections of the river.

Survey work upstream of the Dells dam have identified 52 species of fish including the greater redhorse, which is a state-listed threatened species. The major sport fish species in the river include walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, lake sturgeon, bluegill and black crappie. The Chippewa River has a six-week fall hook and line season for lake sturgeon. Because of its limited range in Wisconsin, the lake sturgeon is considered a species of special concern.

Date  2011

Author   Aquatic Biologist

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