Flambeau River, Upper North Fork Flambeau River Watershed (UC13)
Flambeau River, Upper North Fork Flambeau River Watershed (UC13)
Flambeau River (2225000)
12.89 Miles
100.77 - 113.66
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 Headwater, Large River
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.
Ashland, Iron
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.
Default FAL
Fish and Aquatic Life - Default Waters do not have a specific use designation subcategory but are considered fishable, swimmable waters.


The Flambeau River is a tributary of the Chippewa River in northern Wisconsin. It drains an area of 1,860 square miles (4,800 km2) and descends from an elevation of approximately 1,570 feet (480 m) to 1,060 feet (320 m) above sea level. The Flambeau is an important recreational destination in the region. It is notable among canoeists in the Midwestern USA for outstanding canoe camping, including excellent scenery, fishing and whitewater. The river and its forks have a variety of possible trip lengths from short day outings, to overnight camping, to voyages of a week or more.

The Flambeau River rises in two major forks -- the North Fork and the South Fork. Both originate in north-central Wisconsin and flow generally southwest to their confluence, then continue as the main Flambeau, also southwesterly, to the mouth in the Chippewa River near Bruce, Wisconsin. The North Fork is formed by the confluence of the Manitowish and Bear Rivers just above Turtle-Flambeau Flowage (reservoir). The South Fork's source is Round Lake in northeastern Price County, Wisconsin. Major tributaries include the Turtle River, flowing into the North Fork in the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, and the Elk River, which flows into the South Fork.

The communities of Park Falls (pop. 2,800) and Oxbo are located along the North Fork. Fifield and Lugerville border the South Fork. Ladysmith, Wisconsin (pop. 3,525) is the only town on the main Flambeau. Generally the river flows through remote areas dominated by second-growth forest, with few road crossings or approaches.

While the South Fork is free-flowing below a small dam at the outlet of Round Lake, the North and Main rivers have several dams that impound small reservoirs, known locally as flowages. Below the dam impounding the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, the North Fork has three dams between Park Falls and Oxbo. On the main Flambeau below the Forks, there are two, at Big Falls and Ladysmith (Dairyland Reservoir).

The Flambeau river is best known as a classic canoeing stream. Both forks are canoeable from their sources, but most trips start at or downstream of access points near Oxbo on the North Fork or Lugerville on the South Fork, and end upstream of the Big Falls Flowage on the Main. For much of the length of these sections of river, the Flambeau and its forks flow through the Flambeau River State Forest.

The North Fork in this section is rated class I to II on the International Scale of River Difficulty at normal water conditions. Major named rapids are Wannigan and Flambeau Falls. The South Fork is a more difficult whitewater river, with runnable rapids up to class III and a portage at Little Falls. Major named rapids include Stonewall, Big Bull, Slough Gundy, and Scratch. Below the confluence (the Forks), the Main Flambeau is class II down to the Big Falls Flowage. The notable rapids on the Main Flambeau are Cedar and Beaver Dam.

The Flambeau system is considered an important fish habitat and fishing resource, primarily for smallmouth bass and muskellunge (muskie).

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flambeau_River

Date  2011

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Historical Description

Park Falls Area - North Fork Flambeau River (UC13) - Contaminated sediment associated with historic wastewater discharges is a concern in this stretch of the river. Historic paper mill effluent and municipal wastewater discharges are suspected contributors to mercury contamination of sediment in flowages downstream from the outfalls.

About 18 river miles downstream of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, four contiguous hydropower projects are in operation. From upstream to downstream the projects are Upper Hydro, Lower Hydro, Pixley Hydro, and Crowley Hydro and cover about 18-20 river miles. All four projects may undergo relicensing in 1996 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The four flowages formed by the dams are operated as "run-of-river," which means they are maintained within a narrow range and water is discharged at the same rate as it enters the impoundment. Below the Crowley Flowage, the river is a popular canoe route. In the Flambeau River State Forest, the Flambeau River shoreline is protected by a one-quarter mile buffer strip along both sides of the river. Sulfite storage lagoons exist along the shoreline of the Flambeau River just upstream of Park Falls (upstream of Pixley Flowage). Beneath the lagoons contaminated groundwater discharges to the river. This contaminant discharge has resulted in water quality impairments, habitat damage, destruction of shoreline vegetation, odors, and degraded aesthetic values.

Larson, Nancy and Lisa Kosmond (Helmuth). 1996. Upper Chippewa River Basin Water Quality Management Plan. PUBL-WR-345-96-REV. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  1996

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Flambeau River, Upper North Fork Flambeau River Watershed (UC13) Fish and Aquatic LifeFlambeau River, Upper North Fork Flambeau River Watershed (UC13) RecreationFlambeau River, Upper North Fork Flambeau River Watershed (UC13) Fish Consumption

General Condition

The Flambeau River (Mile 0 to 20.28) was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; new biological (macroinvertebrate Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scores) and chloride 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.



Monitor Water Quality or Sediment
Conduct water quality monitoring on watershed streams including Turtle and Flambeau Rivers and Pardee, Viran, Lone Lake, Weber, Dollar and Beaver Creeks.

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

Flambeau River is located in the Upper North Fork Flambeau River watershed which is 158.21 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (58.60%), wetland (34.40%) and a mix of grassland (2.90%) and other uses (4.00%). This watershed has 163.80 stream miles, 629.65 lake acres and 33,475.50 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

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

Flambeau River is considered a Cool-Warm Headwater, Large River 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 (Warm-Transition) Headwaters are small, sometimes intermittent streams with cool to warm summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are uncommon to absent, transitional fishes are abundant to common, and warm water fishes are common to uncommon. Headwater species are abundant to common, mainstem species are common to absent, and river species are absent.