Fish and Aquatic Life
Starkweather Creek is a tributary to Lake Monona at its north end, draining urban land on the east side of Madison. The majority of wetlands in the watershed have been drained or filled for urban development. The creek has been extensively channelized and water quality in the main stem and the east and west branches is very poor. The lower reach of Starkweather, below the confluence of the East and West branches, is very turbid and essentially a stormwater channel for the east side of Madison. The stream bottom and shoreline are choked with sediment and debris.
West Branch of Starkweather Creek: Up to the 1960s and early '70s, the West Branch of Starkweather Creek received intensive point source discharges of many different toxic substances. Some of these discharges remain in the sediment of the creek and continue to pose problems for fish and aquatic life. While the point source dischargers have been managed through various programs, some former industrial sites continue to pose problems for the creek's water quality. WDNR and the city of Madison have, however, dredged a portion of the west branch of the creek to reduce problems.
The West Branch drains the area around the Dane County Regional Airport, a portion of the east side of Madison, and urbanizing areas north of U.S. Highway 151. Contaminants in the runoff include oil, grease, lead, cadmium, ethylene glycol and polyaromatic hydrocarbons from streets, parking lots, Truax Field and Dane County Regional Airport, roofs, and other impervious surfaces. Other known contaminants present in the river include lead, zinc, PCBs, and DDT metabolites. In 1990 major spills in runoff from the airport elevated levels of biochemical oxygen demand in the river. The source was found to be the de-icer ethylene glycol, which commonly ponded below storm sewer pipes draining the runways. Subsequently, the airport has constructed a $1 million ethylene glycol collection system for ultimate discharge to Starkweather Creek (Marshall, 1993).
Rock River Water Quality Management Plan, Lower Rock River Appendix. WT-668-2002. South Central Region, WDNR.
Author Aquatic Biologist
Starkweather Creek is a slow-moving creek which drains 21.5 square miles of highly developed land on the east side of the City of Madlson and discharges to the northeast sIde of Lake Monona at Olbrlch Park. Most of its wetlands have been drained, filled, and developed for industrial, commercial, and residential purposes. The creek has been extensively altered through channellzatlon, and the water quality in both branches is poor (Dane Cty. Reg. PIann. Comm. 1979a).
The West Branch, sometimes called Airport Creek, originates in Cherokee Marsh near the Dane County Airport and is a tributary to the East Branch. In the past, the East Branch has received industrial effluent high in ammonia. Although this discharge has been eliminated, ill effects of this pollution remain (Dane Cty. Reg. Plann. Comm. 1979a). Both branches have very low gradients and consequently have elevated summer temperatures with resultlng low oxygen levels.
Starkweather Creek's substrate consists of 90% silt and 10% gravel and sand. Recreational value is quite limited owing to the polluted conditions. The fish population is limited to a few forage species, except near the mouth where fish enter from Lake Monona. PublIc access is avaIlable from severa1 city street crossings, a boat ramp at Olbrlch Park, and from Lake Monona. Fish species: golden shiner, fathead minnow, and brook stickleback.
From: Day, Elizabeth A.; Grzebieniak, Gayle P.; Osterby, Kurt M.; and Brynildson, Clifford L., 1985. Lake and Stream Classification Project. Surface Water Resources of Dane County, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.
Starkweather Creek -T7N, RI0E East Branch: Sec.8, Surface acres = 6.5, Length = 3 miles, Stream order = II, Gradient = 5 ft/mile, Base discharge = 1.7 cfs. West Branch (Airport Creek): Sec. 5, Surface acres = 4.2, Length = 2 miles, Stream order = I, Gradient = 3.7 ft/mile, Base discharge = 8.8 cfs.
Author Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin
The East Branch of Starkweather Creek drains the east side of Madison south of U.S. 151 (East Washington Ave.) and rural land east of Interstate 90-94. This stream is best described as an urban stormwater ditch choked with sediment and aquatic vegetation. Severe diel (24-hour) dissolved oxygen fluctuations are common during low flow summer periods.
Fish populations vary during the year, reflecting seasonal migrations and low summer dissolved oxygen levels. In the past this branch received industrial effluent high in ammonia and other toxic substances. One of the stream's remaining natural attributes, an area of springs just west of the Interstate, is threatened by commercial development.
A streambank stabilization and wetland restoration proposal (Mead & Hunt) indicates that past channelization and ditching of this segment has simplified adjacent wetland functional values but that certain features could be restored by hydraulic modifications and vegetational landscaping work.
Author Mike Kakuska
The East Branch of Starkweather Creek drains urban land on the east side of Madison and discharges to the north end of Lake Monona and the Yahara River downstream. It is classified as a Limited Forage Fishery with the potential of becoming a Warm Water Sport Fishery. The majority of wetlands in the watershed have been drained or filled for urban development. The creek has been extensively channelized and water quality in the main stem and the east and west branches is very poor. The lower reach of Starkweather, below the confluence of the East and West branches, is very turbid and essentially a stormwater channel for the east side of Madison. The stream bottom and shoreline are choked with sediment and debris. The entire stream segment is listed by DNR as a 303(d) Impaired Water. Impairments include acute and chronic aquatic toxicity due to chloride and unspecified metals, degraded habitat due to sediment/total suspended solids, and low dissolved oxygen due to high biological oxygen demand. A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for phosphorus and total suspended solids has been established for the Yahara River (including its tributaries) as part of the larger Rock River Recovery TMDL.
Author Mike Kakuska
Starkweather Creek was put on the Impaired Waters List in the 1998 cycle for BOD, Low DO, sediment, degraded habitat, and unspecified metals causing toxicity. In the 2016 elevated chloride was added. Starkweather Creek was placed under a special fish consumption advisory for PFOS in 2020; a listing of PFOS in fish tissue was placed on the 2022 Impaired Waters List.
Author Ashley Beranek
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.
Educate and engage residents
River Alliance of Wisconsin will utilize the grant for capacity building of the Friends of Starkweather Creek Organization and education/outreach within the community.
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
|WBIC||Official Waterbody Name||Station ID||Station Name||Earliest Fieldwork Date||Latest Fieldwork Date||View Station||View Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10017832||Starkweather Creek -- Olbrich Park Boat Ramp||7/19/2008||6/12/2022||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133481||Starkweather Creek - East Branch-Dredging Pro||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133409||Starkweather Creek - East Branch-100 Yds Upstream Of Confluence||6/29/1990||5/13/2017||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133480||Starkweather Creek - Bridge At Olbrich Dredging Project||12/1/1992||10/9/2021||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133069||Starkweather Creek at Atwood Ave||6/20/2019||10/24/2019||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133076||Starkweather Creek East Branch at Milwaukee St||10/21/1988||8/17/2021||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10032759||E. Br Starkweather at Commercial||2/13/2011||1/1/2015||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133407||Starkweather Creek - Main Stream-120 Ft Upstream Of Rr Bridge At Olbrich||6/29/1990||8/17/1994||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133466||Starkweather Creek - Dawes Street||8/17/1988||7/30/2020||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133070||Starkweather Creek at Sth 30||6/1/2007||4/25/2022||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133072||Starkweather Cr - E. Br. at Atwood Ave at RR Tressle||4/1/1991||5/13/2017||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10047647||Starkweather Creek at Lake Monona||5/22/2019||8/11/2021||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133068||Starkweather Creek at Sycamore Ave||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10043145||Starkweather Creek - Mainstream||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133408||Starkweather Creek - Main Stream-200 Yds Downstream Of Confluence||8/17/1994||8/17/1994||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10049076||Starkweather Creek East Branch at Zeier Road below East Towne Mall detention pond||5/13/2017||5/13/2017||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10034910||Starkweather Creek at Atwood Ave (USGS station)||12/27/2011||9/9/2017||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10020912||Starkweather Creek 315m Upstream Sth 30||2/24/2007||1/1/2015||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||10039471||Starkweather Creek at Sumach Rd||Map||Data|
|805100||Starkweather Creek||133547||Starkweather Creek off of Ivy St||10/21/1988||10/30/2019||Map||Data|
Starkweather Creek is located in the Yahara River and Lake Monona watershed which is 93.73 mi². Land use in the watershed is primarily suburban (24.80%), urban (23.90%) and a mix of agricultural (14.50%) and other uses (36.90%). This watershed has 101.97 stream miles, 6,275.33 lake acres and 5,158.72 wetland acres.
Nonpoint Source Characteristics
This watershed is ranked Not Available for runoff impacts on streams, Not Available for runoff impacts on lakes and High for runoff impacts on groundwater and therefore has an overall rank of High. 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.