Murphys Creek, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08)
Murphys Creek, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08)
Murphys Creek (803900)
4.69 Miles
0 - 4.69
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-Cold Headwater
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
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.
Streams capable of supporting a warm waterdependent forage 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.
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 forage 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.


This three-mile-long spring-fed creek is a tributary to Lake Waubesa at its southwestern shore. This creek's sub-watershed has a large proportion of wetland to total surface area. The South Waubesa Wetlands is the largest wetland area Murphy's Creek flows through; much of the wetland is managed by the Nature Conservancy and WDNR. The smaller wetland units upstream of South Waubesa contain springs, but have been affected and are still threatened by subdivision development and agricultural runoff. Flow in the creek is generally low. Until 1983, water quality was affected by discharges from the Oakhill Correctional Institute. Since then, the institute has been hooked up to the Oregon wastewater treatment plant. Appraisal monitoring in 1990 indicated good water quality. Groundwater seepage and protection offered by the wetlands contribute to good water quality and habitat in the lower portions. Water quality and habitat are limited in the upper reaches by low flow, as is the creek's fishery, which is limited to forage species due to the low flows.

The potential for good northern pike habitat exists in this creek but fluctuating water levels on Lake Waubesa, as on other Madison Lakes, precludes successful spawning. Northern pike need flooded mats of grasses and sedges on which to lay eggs. Vegetation mats are necessary as the eggs do not cling to plants. Thus, lake level drawdowns and removal of vegetation (grass, sedges) inhibits this creek from meeting its full fishery potential.

Date  2002

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Historical Description

Murphy's Creek (Clemen's Creek) T6N, RIOE, Sec. 7, Surface acres = 1.1, Length = 5 miles, Stream order = I, Gradient = 8.0 ft/mile, Base discharge = 2.1 cfs.
This small, sprlng-fed stream is a tributary to the Yahara River system entering at the southern tip of Lake Waubesa. Its small watershed is mostly wetland. One large wetland near the headwaters has several springs, but has been altered and damaged by construction in the area. The South Waubesa Wetland, a much larger wetland, lies near the mouth of the stream. This wetland has been relatively undisturbed and has a good diversity of wetland types includlng fens which are rare in Dane County. The Department of Natural Resources and the Nature Conservancy have acquired 170 acres of this wetland for a scientific area. Wildlife use is extensive and it is an important spawning area for fish from Lake Waubesa. Lower portions of Murphy's Creek support forage fish species. Flow is low and water quality is poor due to discharge from the Oakhlll Correctional Institute wastewater treatment plant in the upper part of the creek. The stream is managed for the protectIon of the wetlands and their benefits to Lake Waubesa, but not as a fishery. Access is available at three road crossings and through the state-owned lands in the Lower Waubesa Marsh. Fish species: central mudminnow, central stoneroller, fathead minnow, creek chub, white sucker, brook stickleback, and green sunfish.

From: Day, Elizabeth A.; Grzebieniak, Gayle P.; Osterby, Kurt M.; and Brynildson, Clifford L., 1985. Lake and Stream Classification Project. Surface Water Resources of Dane County. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI

Date  1985

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

Murphys Creek, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08) Fish and Aquatic LifeMurphys Creek, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08) RecreationMurphys Creek, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08) Fish Consumption

Impaired Waters

The 2018 assessments of Murphys Creek showed impairment by phosphorus; new total phosphorus sample data exceeded the 2018 WisCALM listing criteria for the Fish and Aquatic Life use. However, available biological data did not indicate impairment (i.e. no macroinvertebrate or fish Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scored in the "poor" condition category). Based on the most updated information, this water was proposed for the impaired waters list.

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.



Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.
Citizen-Based Stream Monitoring
Collect chemical, physical, and/or biological water quality data to assess the current overall stream health. The data can inform management decisions and may be used to identify impaired waters for biennial lists.

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

Murphys Creek 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

Murphys Creek is considered a Cool-Cold Headwater 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.

Cool (Cold-Transition) Headwaters are small, usually perennial streams with cold to cool summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are common to uncommon (<10 per 100 m), transitional fishes are abundant to common, and warm water fishes are uncommon to absent. Headwater species are abundant to common, mainstem species are common to absent, and river species are absent.

More Interactive Maps