Branch River (Main Stem), Branch River Watershed (MA03)
Branch River (Main Stem), Branch River Watershed (MA03)
Branch River (Main Stem) (71300)
12.42 Miles
0 - 12.42
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.
Warm Mainstem, 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.
This river is impaired
Impairment Unknown, PCBs Contaminated Fish Tissue
Total Phosphorus, PCBs
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 Branch River, like the Manitowoc River, exhibits a dual “personality.” Upstream from Taus Road,
the Branch River is slow and soft bottomed with a stream gradient of about one foot per mile.
Downstream from Taus Road the Branch River drops about 11 feet per mile through a rocky channel for
11.2 miles before it joins the Manitowoc River 11.4 miles from Lake Michigan.
Historic reductions in the percentage of forested and wetland vegetation have resulted in a watershed that
lacks adequate opportunities for infiltration and retention of precipitation and snow melt resulting in
flashy runoff which overwhelms existing stream channels and aquatic habitat. This excessive runoff also
strips valuable sediments and nutrients from the terrestrial environment and delivers them to our streams
and lakes where they result in degraded water quality and poorer habitat which can kill sensitive and
intolerant fish and aquatic invertebrates. Flashy runoff also limits the amount of water available to
sustain adequate flows during drought. Restoration efforts should focus on increasing the overall
percentage of forested and wetland vegetation in this watershed to restore a more natural hydrologic
regime and minimize the impacts of flashy runoff and an altered hydrologic regime.
The Branch River (Manitowoc County portion) has been classified as an exceptional resource water under
NR 102. It is one of the few rivers in the state that provides steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
fishing. The river also supports a unique fish resource, the Greater Redhorse (Moxostoma valenciennesi),
which is worthy of special protection. The Greater Redhorse, which was listed as a special concern
species in 1979 and upgraded to threatened in 1989, is sensitive to chemical pollutants, turbidity and
siltation. Populations are threatened with domestic sewage and particulate runoff (Becker 1983). Siltation,
turbidity and chemical pollutants may be even more of a limiting factor for the Redhorse's diet organisms.
The river has also been proposed as a priority stream for the purchase of easements under the Stewardship
Stream Bank Easement Program, NR 51.63.
The Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection (FMHP) is working on developing a new
fishery area on the Manitowoc and Branch rivers. FMHP staff propose to manage this area for angler
access, habitat protection and fish habitat restoration. Specifics on the proposal are available in the 1990
Manitowoc/Branch River Fisheries Plan (Draft). The draft plan includes the area up to County Trunk
Highway (CTH) J on the Branch River and up to Clark Mills on the Manitowoc River. A list of fish
species found during a shocker survey in 1983 demonstrates the river supports good species diversity.

From: Willman, Guy and Mike Toneys. 2001. The State of the Lakeshore Basin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  2001

Author  Michael Toneys


One particular stretch of the Branch River should be considered a key habitat area and acquired if
possible. This particular stretch lies within property owned and managed by the Rahr Malting Company.
About a mile of the Branch River runs through the approximately 365-acre Rahr property. In addition to
the extensive Branch River frontage several large and stable springs that contribute significant flow to the
Branch River are on this property. This spring flow is especially important to the stableness of the Branch
River during seasons of lower river flow. This area has also served as important smolting habitat for
stocked steelhead yearlings before they migrate to Lake Michigan. To date, all steelhead smolt stocked in
the Manitowoc - Branch river system have been released within or just upstream from the Rahr property.
This stretch of the Branch River also has several excellent adult steelhead holding areas. In 1996, a stretch
of the Branch River became eligible for stewardship easement acquisition. Approximately 20 miles of the
river between the Brown/Manitowoc County Line and downstream of North Union Road is eligible for
easement acquisition for increased water quality protection. Since the Branch River is one of the better steelhead streams in the basin, easements should include angler access. The Branch River is managed by the WDNR as a Class I steelhead stream and as such receives annual smolt stockings of Chambers Creek and Skamania stains of steelhead. The river also receives stockings of coho salmon.
A proposed cold water discharge from the Lemberger Landfill Site (Superfund Site) could impact the fishery and other aquatic life in the Branch River near HWY J. Groundwater discharge typically is cold with low dissolved oxygen levels Flow conditions may also affect the fishery. A consulting firm will be conducting pre and post surveys of the discharge area to determine what affect the discharge has on the fish community structure. The consultants will use John Lyons warmwater criteria, and calculate in Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI). The IBI is used to assess biotic integrity and environmental quality in streams. The pre-discharge survey is scheduled for June 1966 and discharge is expected to begin in late summer 1996. Additional water quality information was collected during the Branch River Prioirty Watershed Appraisal.

From: Willman, Guy and Mike Toneys. 2001. The State of the Lakeshore Basin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Date  2001

Author  Michael Toneys

Branch River (Main Stem), Branch River Watershed (MA03) Fish and Aquatic LifeBranch River (Main Stem), Branch River Watershed (MA03) RecreationBranch River (Main Stem), Branch River Watershed (MA03) Fish Consumption

Impaired Waters

Branch River from its mouth to CTH J. (miles 0 to 12.42) was put on the impaired waters list in 2002 for PCB contaminated fish tissue and in 2020 for phosphorus. This segment was assessed for phosphorus, bugs, fish, chloride, and temperature in the 2020 and 2022 cycles. Phosphorus levels were too high both cycles.

Branch River from CTH J to the Brown-Manitowoc county line (miles 12.41 to 20.15) was put on the impaired waters list in 1998 for PCB contaminated fish tissue and in 2020 for phosphorus. The phosphorus listing was confirmed in the 2022 cycle.

Branch River from Brown-Manitowoc county line to headwaters (miles 20.15 to 36.78) was put on the impaired waters list in 1998 for PCB contaminated fish tissue.

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.



Monitor Water Quality or Sediment
Category 5A. 2018 TP Results: May Meet. Station: 10017101. AU: 482183.
Partnership Project
Lakeshore Natural Resources Partnership (LNRP) is sponsoring a project to continue to support the Friends of the Branch River Watershed Project final deliverables include: all data collected, agendas and minutes for planning meetings, presentations, newsletters and educational materials provided to the public. Specific project activities include: 1) Holding river clean-up event; 2) Conducting a Project RED event; 3) Hosting volunteer Restore the Shore work day events; 4) Mapping invasive species in the Branch River utilizing the AIS bridge Snapshot day protocols; 5) Hosting several Getting People to the River events; 6) Hosting at least three educational seminars.
Engage Volunteers in Monitoring/Restoration
The Lakeshore Natural Resources Partnership, Inc. shall partner with the Friends of the Branch River to develop a stronger stewardship ethic and leadership in young adults in the Manitowoc River basin with focus on the Branch River and Collins Marsh. Specifically, Lakeshore Natural Resources Partnership will design a youth leadership curriculum and youth project plan, form a youth education advisory council, host Explore and Restore river events, and develop partners to assist with programming events and project implementation.
Educate and engage residents
The Lakeshore Natural Resources Partnership , Inc. proposes to supplement and build on previous work by partners to raise pubic awareness and participation in water stewardship. Specificaly, Lakeshore Natural Resources Partnership will focus on building the capacity and membership of the Friends of the Branch River and Friends of the East and West Twin River groups. Activities for each group include water seminar, an explore and restore river event, river walks, aquatic invasive species control efforts, a paint-out event with the Water's Edge Artists, and several newsletters and newspaper article releases. A strategic plan will be developed for each Friends group.
Rivers Planning Grant
The Friends of the Branch River proposes to develop a strategic plan for the Friends of the Branch River river enhancement project. The project will take place in two phases. This is phase 1 and will include conducting fish habitat assessments, shoreline erosion surveys, water quality monitoring, and fish/crayfish tissue analysis. Information and education materials will be presented to the public throughout the projects. The strategic plan and power point presentation will be submitted to the Department of Natural Resources after completion of phase 2 of the project.
Rivers Planning Grant
The Friends of the Branch River proposes to develop a strategic plan for the Friends of the Branch River river enhancement project. The project will take place in two phases. This is phase 2 and will include conducting water quality monitoring during baseflow and event conditions, holding facilitated strategic planning workshops, training volunteer river monitors, analyzing monitoring results from both phases, and presenting the conclusions to the public through informational meetings and newspaper articles. The strategic plan and power point presentation will be submitted to the Department of Natural Resources after completion of phase 2 of the project. The DNR will be provided with both a paper copy and an electronic copy of the final report. Information will be disseminated to the public as described in the grant application.
Partnership Project
Manitowoc County proposes to assist the Friends of the Branch River become a self-sustaining river organization. Project deliverables include professional facilitator to establish organization goals and objectives; develop bylaws, incorporation, tax exempt status; develop strategy and plan for sustaining membership; develop a training program; develop educational materials; develop funding mechanisms; create a networking system; and conduct stream monitoring to identify improvement needs and utilize public involvement. A final report of project results will be provided to the DNR both electronically and on paper.
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Restore Wetlands
Navigability Determination
SW SW S6 T21N R21E; Branch River, trib;
Navigability Determination
SW SW S6 T21N R21E; Branch River, trib;
Navigability Determination
SW SW S6 T21N R21E; Branch River, trib;
Nine Key Element Plan
Branch River PWS Plan - Nine Key Element Plan - The purpose of the Nonpoint Source Control Plan developed for this project is to assess the nonpoint pollutants in the Branch River Priority Watershed and guide the implementation of control measures. Nonpoint source control measures are needed to meet very specific water resource objectives designed to protect and enhance the surface and groundwater in the watershed.
Monitor Fish Tissue
71300 name Branch River TMDL ID 614 Start Mile 20.15 End Mile 36.78

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

Branch River is located in the Branch River watershed which is 108.49 mi². Land use in the watershed is primarily agricultural (54.90%), grassland (21.90%) and a mix of wetland (15%) and other uses (8.10%). This watershed has 185.55 stream miles, 166.61 lake acres and 8,942.97 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked High for runoff impacts on streams, Not Ranked 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.This water is ranked High Stream for individual Rivers based on runoff problems and the likelihood of success from project implementation.

Natural Community

Branch River (Main Stem) is considered a Warm Mainstem, COOL-Warm Mainstem 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.

Warm Mainstem waters are moderate-to-large but still wadeable perennial streams with relatively warm summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are absent, transitional fishes are common to uncommon, and warm water fishes are abundant to common. Headwater species are common to absent, mainstem species are abundant to common, and river species are common to absent.

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