Lake Waubesa, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08)
Lake Waubesa, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08)
Lake Waubesa (803700)
2074.53 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
High Phosphorus Levels, Excess Algal Growth, PFOS Contaminated Fish Tissue
Mercury, PFOS, Total Phosphorus
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.
Streams capable of supporting a warm waterdependent sport fishery. Representative aquatic life communities associated with these waters generally require cool or warm temperatures and concentrations of dissolved oxygen that do not drop below 5 mg/L.
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.


Rock River Water Quality Management Plan, Lower Rock River Appendix. WT-668-2002. South Central Region, WDNR.

The Yahara River flows unimpeded from the Mendota Locks through Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa. The Lake Waubesa Dam, popularly known as the Babcock Park Lock and Dam, is located at the outlet of Lake Waubesa in the Town of Dunn. Dane County constructed the 10 foot dam in 1938 to control lake levels and aid navigation. The dam holds a very small hydraulic head, often less than a foot and dam is often open during the year because the water level is held up by the channel constriction downstream of the dam. The dam controls the water levels for Lake Monona and Waubesa and continues to be owned and operated by Dane County.
The County endeavors to maintain the water levels of Lake Monona and Waubesa at a lower level during the winter to prevent ice damage to the shoreline and to provide flood storage capacity during the spring runoff. During the spring, the levels are raised to aid the spawning of northern pike and allow recreational use adjacent to the shoreline. The raised water level allows the pike access to the marsh grass where they spawn in the early spring. The County also passes 50 cubic feet per second between April 1 and May 15 to aid the spawning of walleye and other fish downstream of the dam. Walleye prefer to spawn in flowing water over gravel substrate. At all other times, a minimum discharge of at least 10 cfs is maintained. Due to heavy rains, the lakes reached record levels in 2000.

Date  2002

Author   Aquatic Biologist


Lake Waubesa is the shallowest of the Yahara Lakes. The watershed surrounding Lake Waubesa is a combination of urban, industrial, and rural lands. There are also extensive wetlands at the north and south ends of the lake. Lake Waubesa was severely affected by large amounts of municipal wastewater received during the 1940s and 1950s.

Water quality of the lake has improved since MMSD diverted its treated wastewater effluent away from the lake. The lake still receives large nutrient loads primarily from upstream. The lake also continues to exhibit effects from past nutrient loading. Dissolved reactive phosphorus and total phosphorus levels in the lake have, however, declined, which may be attributed to reduced direct loadings from its watershed and indirect loads from upstream lakes. Lake sediments also contain high concentrations of phosphorus and will continue to affect water quality in the years to come.

Rooted aquatic plant growth, particularly Eurasian water milfoil, has been resurgent in the lake, corresponding to improved water clarity. As with other lakes in the system, chloride levels in Waubesa have increased over the past 20 years. The lake flushes about two to three times per year.

A fish consumption advisory exists for walleye. Elevated levels of mercury were found in some fish samples taken by WDNR. Lake sediment sampling in 1987 indicates a trend toward decreasing mercury concentrations and deposition in the lake. Fish sampling for mercury will continue. WDNR received complaints from anglers of “cancerous” and “ulcerated” fish taken on the lake. Concerned that toxics leaking from the MMSD lagoons to Nine Springs Creek and entering the lake, WDNR staff investigated the reports and now believe these fish were suffering from naturally-occurring diseases, “red sore” disease in black crappie and lymphocysts in walleye. Additional fish samples were taken on Lake Waubesa in the fall of 1989 for further analysis. WDNR is investigating a connection between red sore disease and pseudomonas bacteria. Red sore tends to occur in fish under some stress, and occurs more frequently in the lower Yahara lakes.

Lake Waubesa supports a productive and diverse warm water fishery of muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, bass and panfish. The lake receives heavy use, particularly for fishing. Rough fish are an ongoing problem. In 1995, a cooperative effort to restore eight acres of wetlands at the south end of Lake Waubesa neared completion. The wetlands are designed to trap soil from surrounding uplands, create fish spawning habitat, and enhance the lake's general ecological health.

Date  2002

Author   Aquatic Biologist


Lake Waubesa Wetlands More than 500 acres of wetlands exist in the Lake Waubesa watershed. The lake's southern wetlands provide excellent habitat for fish spawning, migratory waterfowl and other wildlife and has a diversity of plant communities. Much of the wetland is in public ownership. A number of springs in and around the wetland provide a constant source of clean water. The primary threats are from alterations of some of the springs, agricultural polluted runoff, and local development and construction. The lake's 139-acre southeast wetland was identified by the 1990 UW-Madison Water Resources Monitoring Workshop as having significant aesthetic and recreational qualities.

Date  2002

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Lake Waubesa, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08) Fish and Aquatic LifeLake Waubesa, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08) RecreationLake Waubesa, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08) Fish Consumption

Impaired Waters

Lake Waubesa was placed under a special fish consumption advisory for PFOS in 2020; this lake had a listing of PFOS in fish tissue placed on the 2022 Impaired Waters List.

Date  2022

Author  Ashley Beranek

Impaired Waters

Goodland Beach was evaluated for bacteria in 2014 and 2020. In 2020 bacteria levels were too high and this beach was added to the impaired waters list. Recreation at this beach can be impeded by high bacteria levels.

Date  2019

Author  Ashley Beranek

Impaired Waters

Lake Waubesa (WBIC 803700) was placed on the impaired waters list for total phosphorus in 2012. The phosphorus TMDL was approved by the U.S. EPA in 2011. During the 2018 listing cycle new total phosphorus sample data overwhelmingly exceeded the 2018 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Recreation and Fish & Aquatic Life uses. Chlorophyll-a sample data also exceeded the REC use thresholds. Based on the most updated information the impairments of Excess Algal Growth was added to the Total Phosphorus listing.

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 Classification
Dane County Lake Classification-Phase 2: The Phase 1 classification grant classified all county lakes and streams. This grant will take the next step by developing a management program based on the classification.
Lake Classification
Dane County Department of Planning and Development will hire a project staff in order to develop a Lake Classification project, which is seen as the first step toward developing a consistent set of county-wide standards and procedures to protect Dane County Waters.
Monitor Fish Tissue
IW listed from pre-year 2000 FCA data
Watershed Mapping or Assessment
Waubesa Wetlands Study with other interested and affected parties to conduct a comprehensive study of the watershed upstream of the Waubesa Wetlands within 3 years.

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

Lake Waubesa is located in the Yahara River and Lake Monona watershed which is 93.73 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily suburban (24.80%), urban (23.90%) and a mix of agricultural (14.50%) and other uses (36.90%). This watershed has 101.97 stream miles, 6,275.33 lake acres and 5,158.72 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked Not Available for runoff impacts on streams, Not Available 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.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

Lake Waubesa is considered a Deep Lowland 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.

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

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