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Lakes Health

Lake Level Monitoring

Monitoring Objectives

The objective is to monitor statewide lake-levels over time to address growing concern for health of aquatic life in surface waters due to drought, changing climate, and groundwater withdrawals. Record low water levels in some areas of the state affect both the health of aquatic life and designated use of lakes. As water levels decline, critical littoral habitat for fish and aquatic life is stranded above water in lakes. In some lakes, low water levels have left piers hundreds of feet from shore and rendered boat landings unusable. Although long-term water level records exist, current monitoring efforts are disjointed and do not cover all areas of the state.

Monitoring Design

In 2015, WDNR added lake level monitoring to the Citizen Lake Monitoring Network. Professionals (e.g., county surveyors) survey and install staff gages to lakes shortly after ice-out in spring and then survey and remove staff gages in late fall. Citizen volunteers record and report lake levels preferably weekly, but at least monthly. Seventeen lakes began monitoring water levels in summer 2015 as a pilot (Figure 18), and WDNR plans to expand the program. Lakes were prioritized for lake level monitoring based on the following criteria: 1. seepage lakes, 2. regions with little to no existing lake level monitoring data, 3. regions vulnerable to groundwater withdrawal (deep layers of sand and gravel), and 4. lakes monitored by volunteers or WDNR for other parameters. Lake levels have been monitored separately by a variety of entities, including: Citizen Lake Monitoring Network (CLMN), University of Wisconsin (UW) Long Term Ecological Research Program, United States Geological Survey (USGS), USGS index lakes (seepage lakes chosen to represent different regions of the state), county-led projects in the Central Sands area, and monitoring led by the North Lakeland Discovery Center in Vilas County.

Water Quality Indicators

The sole indicator is the water level reading from the staff gage.

Quality Assurance

All staff gages will be surveyed to at least three reference marks and tied to a datum. This ensures that the data record may continue long into the future even if all reference marks are lost. Water level readings from the staff gage will be converted to feet above sea level to ensure that data are comparable between years. Other elements of the quality assurance plan include:

     Minimum concordance measures when surveying in the staff gages
     Repeat staff gage surveys on 10% of lakes by a qualified WDNR staff member
     Verification of citizen-reported water level data
     Trainings for surveying and installing staff gages
     Trainings for reading water levels on staff gages
     Data analysis in SWIMS

Data Management

Metadata and water level data will be documented in SWIMS. Metadata will include survey information, GPS locations and datum of reference marks, contact information for surveyors and volunteers, maps, and calculations to convert to feet above sea level. Water level data will be entered into SWIMS by volunteers or by regional coordinators. One challenge will be automating the conversion of raw water level readings to standardized feet above sea level.


Water level graphs will be added to the individual lakes pages, and a WDNR water level monitoring webpage will be created. We will also tie our data into a webpage hosted by UW-Madison that graphs and maps lake level data collected by all entities (

Programmatic Evaluation

The first program evaluation will be in spring of 2016.

Last revised:

Wednesday May 31 2017