Bad River, Lower Bad River,Upper Bad River Watershed (LS09)
Bad River, Lower Bad River,Upper Bad River Watershed (LS09)
Bad River (2891900)
6.53 Miles
37.23 - 43.76
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.
Fish and Aquatic Life - waters that do not have a specific use designation subcategory assigned but which are considered fishable, swimmable waters.
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.
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.
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.


About 34 miles of the Bad River fall within this watershed, almost all of it within the Bad River Indian Reservation. The stream is considered a warm water sport fishery important for spawning walleye and lake sturgeon, as well as supporting migratory runs of trout and salmon species. Other fish found in the lower portion of the river include muskellunge, northern pike, rock bass, pumpkinseeds, bullheads, black crappies, smallmouth bass and yellow perch. This stream's total length is 76 miles from its headwaters in Caroline Lake and has many larger tributaries, among them the White, Potato, Marengo and Tyler Forks rivers. Thus, the lower watershed reflects a river carrying a significant load of sediment and capable of carrying a tremendous amount of water. Due to clay soils that promote rapid runoff, the river is susceptible to rapid flow fluctuations and can move tremendous amounts of sand. Annual mean discharge of suspended sediment was recorded as 618 tons a day, with a high of 8,210 tons/day and a low of 5.7 (STORET). The lower reach tends to be broad and sluggish with a low gradient. Water sampling has shown temperatures that can reach ranges that are close to lethal for trout. Periodically high levels of fecal coliform bacteria have been measured in lower portions of the watershed.

This watershed is largely forested and at risk of experiencing the effects of clearcutting and logging traffic in the highly erodible clay soils. Much of this watershed was at one time covered by boreal forest and mixed conifer, species that protected the easily disturbed soils with their deeper root systems, protective canopies and relationship with soil moisture. Today these forests are dominated by aspen and low-quality second growth hardwoods.

Copper Falls State Park protects the confluence of the Bad and Tyler Forks rivers. The park has three major waterfalls, a deep granite gorge, older growth pine, hemlock and hardwood forest. The park has a WPDES permitted discharge to the Bad River. This discharge appears to occur upstream of the Tyler Forks confluence, placing the discharge in the Upper Bad River.

The Bad River and Bad River Slough are identified in the Lake Superior Coastal Wetland Evaluation (Epstein 1997) as aquatic priority sites. The Bad River originates in the Winegar Moraines subsection, crosses the Gogebic-Penokee Iron Range subsection, and finally flows through Lake Superior Clay Plain subsection, making it one of the most hydrologically diverse streams in the basin. Limited sampling turned up a moderate number of taxa, mostly dragonflies. One rare species was found. This stream also contained taxa not found elsewhere in this study. Management concerns include exotic species, toxic chemicals, bank erosion, silt and impoundment.

The Bad River Slough is a hard water drainage lake adjacent to Lake Superior with a broad outlet channel to the Bad River. Water entering the slough can be from three different sources, depending on conditions. Normally, drainage water from Honest John Slough flows through. Waters from Lake Superior and the Bad River often enter the slough. A regionally significant mussel bed is located in the outlet channel and contains rare species and species not known elsewhere in the Lake Superior Basin. The fishery is reportedly very diverse and includes Lake Sturgeon.

Determination of mussel population dynamics and clarifying taxonomic status of unusual forms is recommended. Threats to the aquatic features are diverse as the site lies at the mouth of the largest stream system in the Wisconsin portion of the basin.

Date  1999

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Bad River, Lower Bad River,Upper Bad River Watershed (LS09) Fish and Aquatic LifeBad River, Lower Bad River,Upper Bad River Watershed (LS09) RecreationBad River, Lower Bad River,Upper Bad River Watershed (LS09) Fish Consumption

General Condition

Bad River was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; new 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.



Partnership Project
The Bayfield Regional Conservancy, in cooperation with the Bad River Watershed Association will sponsor a project focusing on education and membership enhancement, water quality monitoring, culvert assessment, and development of a strategic plan for restoration of fish passage and erosion control at road stream crossings. The Bayfield Regional Conservancy will hire a volunteer coordinator to oversee the implementation of this project. This project will expand the existing water quality monitoring project with a goal of 18 monitoring sites total. The culvert assessment will continue and be expanded. Criteria for culvert restoration projects will be developed and prioritized. Culvert workshops will be provided for local town officials, road crews and a strategic plan for culvert improvement will be developed and presented. Education efforts will include increased mailing of newsletters, surveys, volunteer training, and a leadership plan development. The BRWA bylaws will be evaluated for potential changes and updates. Deliverables for this project include the data reports; a summary of volunteer involvment; copies of educational newsletters; the strategic plan for culvert repair and river restoration; the leadership development plan.
Information and Education
The Nature Conservancy will conduct an organizational development and informational & educational project in the Bad River watershed in Ashland, Bayfield, and Iron Counties. Activities involved with this project include; organization of a Bad River Watershed Council, implementation of a long-term educational effort in the entire watershed, and implementation of a long-term citizen volunteer water quality monitoring program. The educational effort will include the development of a watershed council brochure and the conduct of a sociological landowner survey. Specific deliverables for this grant project include: 1. A final report that summarizes the grant project activities and includes the watershed council mission statement and bylaws, newsletters, brochure, survey results, and the monitoring program design and manuals.
Monitor Baseline Survey
Obtain pre-project conditions
Water Quality Planning
The work includes monitoring waters for the purposes of updating waterbody assessment status (i.e. future monitoring for 303(d) or ERW/ORW status), for making managment recommendations and updating water body and watershed narratives in WATERS and for use in watershed planning. Collect background water quality information within a watershed and adjacent watershed with a known iron ore deposit. The Monitoring stations to be determined after field recon.

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

Bad River is located in the Lower Bad River watershed which is 123.92 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (63.80%), wetland (25.40%) and a mix of grassland (5.40%) and other uses (5.50%). This watershed has 317.28 stream miles, 11,923.85 lake acres and 17,289.12 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

Bad River 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.

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