Burns Creek, Little La Crosse River Watershed (BL05)
Burns Creek, Little La Crosse River Watershed (BL05)
Burns Creek (1653600)
6.27 Miles
7.25 - 13.52
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.
Coldwater, Cool-Cold Headwater, Cool-Cold Mainstem
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.
La Crosse
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.
Fish and Aquatic Life - waters that do not have a specific use designation subcategory assigned but which are considered fishable, swimmable waters.
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 cold water sport fishery, or serving as a spawning area for salmonids and other cold water fish species. Representative aquatic life communities, associated with these waters, generally require cold temperatures and concentrations of dissolved oxygen that remain above 6 mg/L. Since these waters are capable of supporting natural reproduction, a minimum dissolved oxygen concentration of 7 mg/L is required during times of active spawning and support of early life stages of newly-hatched fish.
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.


Burns Creek is a spring-fed stream located in eastern La Crosse County. It flows in a southwesterly direction for approximately 12 miles before reaching the La Crosse River just upstream of Lake Neshonoc. This stream has a gradient of 29 feet per mile and drains rolling agricultural land and forested hillsides. Burns Creek is a Class I trout stream upstream of the dam located in T17N R5W S21 and Class II below the dam. The dam acts as a barrier for migration of brown trout into the upper five miles of Burns Creek, enabling the successful introduction of native brook trout into the upper half of the creek with minimal competition from brown trout.

The most recent stream survey, completed in 1999, documented a stream bottom consisting mainly of sand with some clay, silt and gravel. Riparian land use was primarily wooded with some meadow, cropland, and pasture. Fish cover consisted of woody debris, overhanging vegetation and undercut banks. Both brook and brown trout were found during this survey, along with a wide variety of aquatic invertebrates and forage fish species. From 1960 to 1975, the stream was stocked with brown trout. In 1976, the introduction of brook trout into the upper half began and has continued with occasional stocking of browns below the dam. Access is possible from several road crossings and DNR owned easements.

In 1998, the La Crosse County Land Conservation Department initiated water chemistry testing of streams throughout La Crosse County. Baseflow conditions were targeted for testing as the most likely to show normal water quality conditions. Land Conservation staff sample streams four times annually when no rainfall or snowmelt has occurred during the previous 72 hours. Burns Creek is sampled in two different locations: near the mouth and approximately five miles upstream from its mouth. Between 1998 and 2001 at the middle sample location, Burns Creek met the county phosphorus goal in only 7% and met the county fecal coliform bacteria goal in 80% of the samples taken. At the lower sample location, Burns Creek never met the county phosphorus goal and met the county fecal coliform bacteria goal in approximatley 50% of the samples taken. These data indicate a nutrient load that is likely also contributing to high bacterial counts. The county ranks Burns Creek as one of the highest priority streams in the county on which to expend effort to reduce phosphorus and bacterial contamination.

To that end, the La Crosse County Land Conservation Department is currently working with landowners adjacent to Burns Creek to reduce nutrients, sediment, and bacteria entering the stream from animal waste, adjacent cropland, and streambank erosion. Barnyard runoff management systems, livestock stream crossings, and streambank restoration are among some of the practices that the county will install for minimal to no cost to landowners. The project period only lasts through December 2002.

La Crosse County should continue baseflow water chemistry monitoring of Burns Creek to determine water quality trends after completion of work with landowners adjacent to Burns Creek. The WDNR should survey Burns Creek after completion of the La Crosse County LCD project to document any fish or habitat changes.

Date  2002

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Burns Creek, Little La Crosse River Watershed (BL05) Fish and Aquatic LifeBurns Creek, Little La Crosse River Watershed (BL05) RecreationBurns Creek, Little La Crosse River Watershed (BL05) Fish Consumption

General Condition

Burns Creek (WBIC 1653600) was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; new biological (fish Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scores) sample data were clearly below the 2018 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Fish and Aquatic Life use. This water was meeting this designated use and was not considered impaired.

Date  2017

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.


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

Watershed Characteristics

Burns Creek is located in the Little La Crosse River watershed which is 240.79 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (48%), agricultural (25.70%) and a mix of grassland (15.60%) and other uses (10.80%). This watershed has 445.88 stream miles, 114.59 lake acres and 5,439.88 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

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

Burns Creek is considered a Coldwater, Cool-Cold Headwater, Cool-Cold Mainstem under the state's Natural Community Determinations.

Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model resultsand 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.

Cool (Cold-Transition) Mainstem streams are moderate-to-large but still wadeable perennial streams with cold to cool summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are common to uncommon, transitional fishes are abundant to common, and warm water fishes are uncommon to absent. Headwater species are common to absent, mainstem species are abundant to common, and river species are common to absent.

Cool (Cold-Transition) Headwaters are small, usually perennial streams with cold to cool summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are common to uncommon (<10 per 100 m), transitional fishes are abundant to common, and warm water fishes are uncommon to absent. Headwater species are abundant to common, mainstem species are common to absent, and river species are absent.

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