Elk Creek, Elk Creek Watershed (BT03)
Elk Creek, Elk Creek Watershed (BT03)
Elk Creek (1782500)
0.26 Miles
0 - 0.26
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.
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.
This river is impaired
High Phosphorus Levels
Total Phosphorus
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.


Elk Creek is a 22-mile tributary of the Trempealeau River and is designated as a Class III trout stream for its entire length. Land use in the Elk Creek Watershed is dominated by agriculture and, in 1979, it was one of five watersheds initially selected under the Nonpoint Source Abatement Program. The project was successful in reducing bacteria levels and organic pollution in some streams but trout habitat and populations did not significantly improve immediately following the completion of the project (Source: 2002 WQM Plan).

Date  2010

Author  Daniel Helsel

Elk Creek, Elk Creek Watershed (BT03) Fish and Aquatic LifeElk Creek, Elk Creek Watershed (BT03) RecreationElk Creek, Elk Creek Watershed (BT03) Fish Consumption

General Condition

This stream is degraded by animal waste from lack of in-stream fishery habitat, barnyard runoff, pasturing livestock on the streambanks and cropland erosion. There are stream reaches where braided channels have developed due to the stream eroding behind poorly-maintained riprap projects which were installed as part of the Bugle Lake restoration project.

Date  1991

Author  Lisa Helmuth

Impaired Waters

Elk Creek from its mouth to Bugle Lake (miles 0 to 0.72) and from above Bugle Lake to headwaters (miles 0.72 to 21.51) was put on the impaired waters list for phosphorus in the 2012 cycle. This segments were evaluated for phosphorus and/or biology every two years between 2012 and 2022; phosphorus was consistently high, but biology was in good condition.

Date  2022

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.



Shoreland Ordinance
Treampealeau County proposes to amend or create a shoreland zoning ordinance that complies with the requirements of NR 115, Wisconsin Administrative Code (as revised effective February 1, 2010) and retain existing regulations that exceed the water resource protections of NR 115 or are specific or unique to local needs.
Partnership Project
The City of Independence, in cooperation with River Country RC&D, proposes to create a stakeholder group within the Elk Creek Watershed for the purpose of establishing a performance based incentive program to reduce sediment and nutrient inflow to Elk Creek and Bugle Lake in Trempealeau County. Major project elements to include: 1) Stakeholder recruitment, 2) Meetings and information gathering, 3) Television program, 4) Development of Recommendations, 5) Water access inventories, 6) Final Report.
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Water Quality Planning
Project: Elk Creek (BT03) Watershed Planning
Nine Key Element Plan
Elk Creek PWS Plan - Nine Key Element Plan - The Elk Creek Priority Watershed Project plan assesses the nonpoint sources of pollution in the Elk Creek Watershed and guides the implementation of nonpoint source control measures.
Grant Amended
The use of DNR and federal grants should be used to assess the conditions of the wetland within the watershed following the implementation of the 2011 Federal EPA EMAP study.
Habitat Restoration - Instream
Opportunities to reconnect streams with their floodplain-wetland riparian areas during in-stream habitat work should be pursued.
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Expansion of a citizen based stream monitoring program within the Elk Creek watershed is recommended.
Lakes Protection Grant
A citizen volunteer lake monitoring program, discontinued in 1989, should be reinitiated at Bugle Lake.
Monitor Baseline Survey
Future monitoring efforts should target long-term data records for temperature of cold and cool water stream in anticipation of climate change responses, in addition to diagnostic monitoring. This work would help establish baseline stream nutrient concentrations and potential relationships to climate change and future nutrient standards.

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

Elk Creek is located in the Elk Creek watershed which is 112.95 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (41.90%), agricultural (28.70%) and a mix of grassland (23.30%) and other uses (6.20%). This watershed has 284.80 stream miles, 47.13 lake acres and 3,310.85 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.

Natural Community

Elk Creek is considered a Coldwater 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.