Big Spring Branch, Blue River Watershed (LW09)
Big Spring Branch, Blue River Watershed (LW09)
Big Spring Branch (1212900)
2.41 Miles
0 - 2.41
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.
Cool-Cold Headwater
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.
Aquatic Life
Waters that support fish and aquatic life communities (healthy biological communities).
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.
Aquatic Life
Waters that support fish and aquatic life communities (healthy biological communities).
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.
Streams capable of supporting small populations of forage fish or tolerant macro-invertebrates that are tolerant of organic pollution. Typically limited due to naturally poor water quality or habitat deficiencies. Representative aquatic life communities associated with these waters generally require warm temperatures and concentrations of dissolved oxygen that remain above 3 mg/L.


Big Spring Branch rises in western Iowa County and flows west to the Blue River. It is a Class II trout stream and an exceptional resource water, (ERW), with some natural reproduction of brook and brown trout. Due to monitoring conducted in 2000, it is recommended that the branch be upgraded to a Class I trout fishery. Overall, Big Spring Branch has very good water quality.

The upper reaches of the stream flow through a fairly narrow valley with wooded hillsides. Some cattle grazing occurs in the upper reaches. Grazing increases further downstream, resulting in some bank erosion. A major problem with the stream may be the over-fishing of trout. Big Spring Branch has been ranked as a high priority for nonpoint source pollution reduction and receives discharge from the Village of Highland wastewater treatment plant.

The state has easements along Big Spring Branch. A group of citizen monitors are conducting monitoring on this creek. To see data, visit their website at

Date  2002

Author  Cynthia Koperski

Historical Description

Big Spring Branch rises in western Iowa County and flows west to the Blue River. It is a
Class II trout stream (WDNR, 1980) and has been nominated for addition to the state's
list of surface waters under antidegradation protection as exceptional resource waters
(ERW). Big Spring Branch has very good water quality (Schlesser, 1991-1992). The
upper reaches of the stream flow through a fairly narrow valley with wooded hillsides.
Some cattle grazing occurs in the upper reaches (Schlesser 1990). Grazing increases
further downstream, resulting in some bank erosion (WDNR, 1991). A major problem
with the stream may be over-fishing of trout (Schlesser. 1991-1992).

Date  1994

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

Historical Description

From: Smith, Tom D., and Ball, Joseph R., Lake and Stream Classification Project. Surface Water Resources of Grant County, Department of Natural Resources, 1972. Surface Area = 1.82 acres, Length = 3.0 miles, Gradient = 20 ft./mile, Flow = 3.5 c.f.s.

A spring-fed stream that begins two miles north of Highland in Iowa County. It flows northwest entering Grant County in its upper reaches and then empties into Sixmile Creek in the northeastern part of the county. The drainage basin is narrow and steep, consequently bank erosion and channel scouring is common. This stream has excellent water quality and good aquatic food production. All three species of trout have been stocked by the Department of Natural Resources. At the present time an excellent population of brown trout inhabits the stream. The forage fish that are found in the stream are valuable food items to the large brown trout present. Coarse substrate and rapid runoff are factors that probably suppress natural reproduction. A water control structure scheduled to be built on its upper reaches in Iowa County should lessen these erosion problems.

This stream receives moderate to heavy fishing pressure during the early part of the season. Aquatic game assets are limited to a few muskrats. Deer, squirrels, raccoon, red fox, ruffed grouse, and quail inhabit the surrounding hill country. The village of Highland and the Cudahy Cheese Factory, both located in Iowa County, are potential pollution sources. The stream is easily accessible from one bridge crossing and from a town
road paralleling the stream. Three dwellings adjoin the stream.

Date  1972

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

Historical Description

Big Spring Branch - Location of mouth T7N, R1E Section 18 -8, Surface area = 3.5 acres, Length = 2.4 miles, Gradient = 25.0 feet per mile, Total alkalinity = 222.0 mg/l, Volume of flow = 0.9 cfs.

This stream receives its name from a big spring that forms its beginning. Although there are other spring sources in Iowa County, the aquatic environment favorable to trout production is primarily in Grant County. However, the Iowa County portion has a forage fish population consisting of sculpins, creek chubs, brook sticklebacks, blacknose dace and stoneroller minnows. Its gradient is well below the average for the county but flooding and heavy erosion of its banks are common during the spring runoff and after heavy storms. Public access is limited in the county to one town road crossing near its headwaters.

From: Piening, Ronald and Threinen, C.W. 1968. Lake and Stream Classification Project. Surface Water Resources of Iowa County. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  1968

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

Big Spring Branch, Blue River Watershed (LW09) Fish and Aquatic LifeBig Spring Branch, Blue River Watershed (LW09) RecreationBig Spring Branch, Blue River Watershed (LW09) 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.



Restore Riparian Habitat
The Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter of Trout Unlimited will conduct phase 2 of a restoration project on Big Spring Creek/Branch, Grant County. This cold-water stream habitat restoration project presents opportunities for a diverse and dynamic protection and management program. Specific objectives & deliverables include: 1) the re-creation of overhead cover in the stream with structures that scour holes and add sinuosity to the stream; 2) installation of integrated stream bank stabilization, shaping back steep banks; and 3) utilizing & installing habitat techniques for non-game species, reptiles, amphibians, and plant communities.

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

Big Spring Br is located in the Blue River watershed which is 216.19 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (41.60%), grassland (29.40%) and a mix of agricultural (20.80%) and other uses (8.20%). This watershed has 513.46 stream miles, 416.83 lake acres and 5,825.06 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

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

Natural Community

Big Spring Branch is considered a Cool-Cold Headwater 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.

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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