Big Arbor Vitae Lake, Upper Tomahawk River Watershed (UW38)
Big Arbor Vitae Lake, Upper Tomahawk River Watershed (UW38)
Big Arbor Vitae Lake (1545600)
1070.36 Acres
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.
Deep Lowland
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 lake is impaired
Impairment Unknown, Excess Algal Growth
Unknown Pollutant, Total Phosphorus, Mercury
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.
Deep Lowland
Deep lowland lake describes the depth and location of the lake in a watershed. These variables affect the lakes response to watershed variables.
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.
Fish and Aquatic Life - waters that do not have a specific use designation subcategory assigned but which are considered fishable, swimmable waters.
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.


Big Arbor Vitae Lake, in the Upper Tomahawk River Watershed, is a 1,070.33 acre lake that falls in Vilas County. This lake is managed for fishing and swimming and is currently not considered impaired.

Date  2011

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Historical Description

Source: 1963, Surface Water Resources of Vilas County

Arbor Vitae (Big) Lake, T-40-N, R-7-E, Sections 19, 20, and 30,
Area = 1,065 Surface Acres, Maximum Depth = 36 feet

Big Arbor Vitae is a drainage lake of high fertility. It has
alkaline clear water of low to moderate transparency depending
somewhat on algal response to the lake's fertility. Sand andgravel
are the most important components of the bottom types but muck is
present in significant amounts. It is a muskellunge-walleye fishing
lake and bass are also an abundant game fish. Muskrats are a
significant fur bearer and the lake shore is used for a nesting
site by various waterfowl. Aesthetic value of a lake this large is
excellent because of the large amount of with public frontage.
Public use opportunities are excellent; in addition to a state boat
landing and picnic area on the north shore and a town landing on
the south side with access possible from State Highway 70 with
nearby parking, there are 14 resorts on the lake and boat rental
facilities as well.

Date  1963

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

Big Arbor Vitae Lake, Upper Tomahawk River Watershed (UW38) Fish and Aquatic LifeBig Arbor Vitae Lake, Upper Tomahawk River Watershed (UW38) RecreationBig Arbor Vitae Lake, Upper Tomahawk River Watershed (UW38) Fish Consumption

Impaired Waters

Big Arbor Vitae (WBIC 1545600) was placed on the impaired waters list for excess algal growth due to an unknown impairment. The 2018 assessments showed impairment by phosphorus; new total phosphorus sample data exceeded the 2018 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Recreation use and Fish and Aquatic Life use, chlorophyll-a sample data clearly exceeded the REC use thresholds, and nearly exceeded the FAL use thresholds. Based on the most updated information Unknown Pollutant is proposed for deletion and Total Phosphorus was proposed for listing.

Date  2017

Author  Ashley Beranek

Impaired Waters

Big Arbor Vitae (WBIC 1545600) was assessed during the 2016 listing cycle; chlorophyll sample data exceed 2016 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Recreation use, however, total phosphorus data do not exceed REC thresholds. Total phosphorus and chlorophyll data do not exceed Fish and Aquatic Life thresholds.

Date  2015

Author  Aaron Larson


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.



Data analysis, report production
Lake Management Plan Development
Water Quality Modeling
Shoreland Monitoring, Assessment, Inventory
Shoreland Monitoring, Assessment or Inventory
Develop/Distribute Newsletter
Lake Management Plan Development
Watershed Mapping or Assessment

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 Arbor Vitae Lake is located in the Upper Tomahawk River watershed which is 186.83 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (67%), wetland (16%) and a mix of open (14%) and other uses (3.10%). This watershed has 139.00 stream miles, 17,609.90 lake acres and 20,470.21 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked High for runoff impacts on streams, High 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

Big Arbor Vitae Lake is considered a Deep Lowland 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.

Deep lowland lake describes the depth and location of the lake in a watershed. These variables affect the lakes response to watershed variables.