Montreal River East Fork, Montreal River Watershed (LS15)
Montreal River East Fork, Montreal River Watershed (LS15)
Montreal River East Fork (2940300)
9.88 Miles
17.50 - 27.38
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-Warm 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.
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.
Class III Trout
Streams capable of supporting a seasonal coldwater sport fishery and which may be managed as coldwater streams.
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.
Class III Trout
Streams capable of supporting a seasonal coldwater sport fishery and which may be managed as coldwater streams.
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 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.


The Montreal River forms part of the Michigan-Wisconsin border. The West Fork flows from Island Lake, through the Gile Flowage (pronounced Aguile@) and paralleling the East Fork for many miles before meeting. The East Fork of the Montreal River originates at Pine Lake, eventually forming the border between Ironwood and Hurley before becoming the Montreal River at the junction with the West Fork. All three reaches of the river include trout waters.

Muskrat, mink and beaver occur upstream from Hurley. Stream flow is variable, with gradient increasing downstream of Hurley. The cities of Hurley, WI and Ironwood, MI, discharge into this sub-watershed. The West Fork of the Montreal River above Gile Flowage is considered a warm water fishery including young walleye, perch, crappies, northern pike and the occasional brook trout. Downstream from the Gile Flowage, walleye, muskellunge and some brook trout occur. Beaver and nesting and migratory waterfowl use the upper watershed. The Montreal River West Fork receives the effluent discharge from the city of Montreal. The Montreal River is considered trout water to its mouth.

The mouth of the Montreal River has been identified by the Lake Superior Binational Program as important to the integrity of the Lake Superior ecosystem for old growth forest, coastal wetlands and fish and wildlife spawning and nursery grounds. Privately held land at the mouth of the river forms a four-acre cove with a 25-foot-deep kettle hole. Wetlands in the area are valuable to plants and animals. In June and July, the area is used by spawning white suckers and sturgeon and emerald and spottail shiners. The mouth and lower river are also used by spawning coho salmon, pink salmon and rainbow trout. Above the Superior Falls dam, the Montreal River is a high-quality trout stream that requires some additional stocking to ensure a balanced fishery. A scenic area exists below Superior Falls where 100-year-old cedars line the banks. Migratory fish move about a third of a mile upstream to Superior Falls.

The West Fork Montreal River is identified in the Coastal Wetlands Evaluation (Epstein 1997) as an aquatic priority site. While only 17 taxa were collected in this initial effort, two of these are very rare in Wisconsin. The predominant groups were mayflies and caddisflies. Turbidity and impoundment present challenges to the maintenance of water quality.

From: Turville-Heitz, Meg. 1999. Lake Superior Basin Water Quality Management Plan. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  1999

Author   Aquatic Biologist


The Gile Flowage on the West Fork Montreal River is a headwater storage reservoir essential to the operation of the two hydropower projects downstream on the Montreal River. Northern States Power draws and refills the Gile Flowage to provide seasonally uniform streamflow for maximum generation at its Superior Falls and Saxon Falls hydro projects. The flowage is gradually lowered in winter in anticipation of collecting and storing spring runoff. That stored water is then gradually released to maintain flows during summer.

WDNR asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to analyze the effects of winter drawdowns as part of the cumulative impacts analysis for the Superior Falls Hydro licensing decision. FERC denied the request, citing that it had no authority at the Gile Flowage. FERC subsequently initiated an investigation of its jurisdiction at the Gile Flowage, but has yet to make a decision on its authority. WDNR suggested a moderation of the drawdown over a three-year test period to see if there is any change in walleye fingerling survival. If no evidence came from the study showing that modified drawdown altered walleye survivability, the traditional operating procedures could resume. Northern States Power declined to participate in the study, citing economic concerns, regulatory uncertainties and increased liabilities as a result of flooding, and has suggested the fingerling survival might be related to other factors such as entrainment in the works of the dam.

The Saxon Falls Hydro project, relicensed in 1989, was one of the first projects in Wisconsin to be relicensed after Congress passed the Electric Consumers' Protection Act in 1986. With this amendment to the Federal Power Act, FERC is required to give equal consideration to both power generation and environmental protection in deciding whether or not to issue a project license. Michigan Department of Natural Resources participated in the licensing consultation for the Saxon Project. One of the resource issues at Saxon Falls was a minimum flow requirement to the bypassed reach of the Montreal River. WDNR and Northern States Power conducted a qualitative flow study to determine what level of discharge would maintain aquatic and aesthetic resources in the dewatered segment where flow was diverted to the powerhouse. FERC ordered Northern States Power to continuously release at least 5 cubic feet per second to the bypassed channel. The license order for Saxon Falls Project is final, with a term of 30 years. No party requested a rehearing on FERC's order when it was issued in 1989.

From: Turville-Heitz, Meg. 1999. Lake Superior Basin Water Quality Management Plan. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  1999

Author   Aquatic Biologist


For the Superior Falls Hydro project, both WDNR and Michigan DNR participated in the consultation on the license application. Since the discharge at the powerhouse is located on the Michigan side of the river, Michigan has the responsibility for issuing, waiving or denying water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Because Michigan DNR did not act on Northern States Power's request for water quality certification within the one year allotted to respond, FERC presumed that the need for certification was waived.

The project occupies the site of a natural waterfall just upstream from the Montreal River's mouth. Therefore, WDNR determined that fish passage around the dam and losses from fish entrainment in the works of the dam were not a significant concern at the Superior Falls project. Michigan DNR, however, requested Northern States Power provide a barrier to prevent fish entrainment and compensate for residual losses that occur after installation. Michigan DNR requested a specific reopener clause in the license that would trigger a FERC review of fish passage.

In the new license for the Superior Falls Project, FERC ordered the operator to provide a minimum flow of 20 cfs during daytime viewing hours, and a minimum of 8 cfs in the night time hours during the summer season for aesthetics in the bypassed reach. Maintenance of stable water levels in the impoundment and stable discharge from the dam is also an important resource concern at this project due to the flashiness of the river, the small storage capacity of the reservoir and the equipment and staff limitations. FERC ordered the project be run in a run-of-river mode, with exceptions for extreme conditions outside of the licensee's control. Both Northern States Power and Michigan DNR requested rehearing of the FERC license order. WDNR did not request a rehearing.

From: Turville-Heitz, Meg. 1999. Lake Superior Basin Water Quality Management Plan. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  1999

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Montreal River East Fork, Montreal River Watershed (LS15) Fish and Aquatic LifeMontreal River East Fork, Montreal River Watershed (LS15) RecreationMontreal River East Fork, Montreal River Watershed (LS15) 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.


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

Montreal River is located in the Montreal River watershed which is 226.26 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (70%), wetland (22.70%) and a mix of open (3.10%) and other uses (4.10%). This watershed has 382.88 stream miles, 1,369.22 lake acres and 30,742.44 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

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

Montreal River East Fork is considered a Cool-Warm 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.

More Interactive Maps