Iron River, Iron River Watershed (LS05)
Iron River, Iron River Watershed (LS05)
Iron River (2872000)
8.87 Miles
2.07 - 10.94
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.
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.
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 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.


This cold water stream originates in Iron Lake, flows through the Iron River Flowage (Mill Pond Lake) at the town of Iron River and the Orienta Flowage before emptying into Lake Superior. At one time, the Iron River Sanitary District discharged to the river, but now discharges to groundwater via a seepage cell. High quality spring water reaches the river from a number of sources, including Mud Lake. District files indicate Dahlberg Light and Power Company operated a hydro project on the Iron River at the Iron River Flowage, a 76-acre impoundment formed by a concrete roller dam with 23-foot head. Power is no longer generated at this project and the town of Iron River now maintains the flowage.

A 44-foot overflow dam once formed the Orienta Flowage and is now in the process of being abandoned. Northern States Power operated the Orienta Hydro Project until 1985 when the dam washed out for the second time during a heavy storm when the flooding river overtopped the embankments. Dam failure was attributed to a spillway clogged with debris and the inability to reach and open the gates in time. The original dam, built in 1922, washed out in 1946, when the project moved about 60 feet downstream from the original location and with a higher head to give it more generating capacity.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which licenses hydropower operations, in 1989 accepted Northern States Power's surrender of its hydropower license due to operating costs at this site (Scheirer). Since the dam is no longer licensed, Northern States Power is working with WDNR to properly abandon the operation. Part of the process involved collecting sediment samples from the flowage behind the dam to determine if any contamination existed. In 1995, a consultant for the company mapped and sampled the sediments that collected behind the dam during its operation. Sediment contour mapping indicated to the consulting engineers that the present river channel does not currently follow its original path and is much shallower. It is expected that after dam removal, the stream will erode a new, more stable channel through the sediment. Mapping estimated that 235 acre-feet of sediment had been deposited behind the dam, averaging a depth of a little more than 4 feet over the 52 acres of reservoir area analyzed. Analysis of sediment samples taken from the dam by WDNR and the consultant resulted in contaminant levels typical of the region and did not indicate a specific contaminant problem.

Not unlike many other communities in the state, dam abandonment and removal has raised local concerns about what will happen to the river after the dam is gone, or if not removed, who will take responsibility for dam maintenance. WDNR has met with the public on the issue, which is presently in the hands of an administrative law judge (Tomasko).

The lower Iron River is fringed with wetlands and supports an exceptional fishery of brook, brown and rainbow trout, several warm water species, burbot and lake sturgeon. The upper reach, above the confluence with Muskeg Creek, is considered Class II trout waters. The portion from Muskeg Creek to the Orienta Dam has been considered Class III trout waters.

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

Date  1999

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Iron River, Iron River Watershed (LS05) Fish and Aquatic LifeIron River, Iron River Watershed (LS05) RecreationIron River, Iron River Watershed (LS05) Fish Consumption

General Condition

Iron River (WBIC 2872000) was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; new total phosphorus and biological (macroinvertebrate Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scores) 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.



Lake Management Plan Development
BAYFIELD COUNTY: Protecting the Iron River/Delta Lakes through Education, Prevention, Containment & Planning

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

Iron River is located in the Iron River watershed which is 213.39 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (72.60%), wetland (14.90%) and a mix of grassland (9.40%) and other uses (3.10%). This watershed has 300.83 stream miles, 5,975.89 lake acres and 7,470.27 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

Iron River 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.