Lake Wingra, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08)
Lake Wingra, Yahara River and Lake Monona Watershed (LR08)
Lake Wingra (805000)
336.28 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.
Shallow 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
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.
Shallow Lowland
Shallow 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.
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.


Lake Wingra is a shallow 345-acre lake within and adjoining the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Along its shoreline, Wingra is fed by seeps and springs which offer a diversity of wetlands and wet forest systems along the lake's southern border, including spring-fed tamarack stands, deep water cattail marsh, fen, wet meadow, oak savannah, and second-growth maple forest. The lake's maximum depth is 21 feet and mean depth, 8 feet. Wingra does not stratify and in 1980 was approximately one-third or more covered by Eurasian water-milfoil, an aggressive non-native water species.

One of Wingra's principal wetlands is Gardner Marsh, located in the northwestern portion of the UW-Madison Arboretum. Manipulations made to Murphy Creek's outlet to the lake in the early 1900s and the construction of Arboretum Drive isolated Gardner Marsh from Lake Wingra. The marsh is currently overrun by an invasive cattail hybrid (Typha X glauca) with only small patches of remnant sedge meadow. Changes in lake habitat and increased numbers of insect-feeding fish have decreased zooplankton and aquatic insect populations over time (DCRPC, 1988) and today the lake's fishery is dominated by stunted panfish and common carp. Muskellunge have been stocked with the hope of controlling panfish populations.

Wingra has been adversely affected over the years by alterations of the lake and surrounding wetlands, and by urban stormwater. The impact of urban stormwater is perhaps best reflected by chloride levels twice as high as in Lake Monona. Sodium levels in Lake Wingra are about 75 percent higher than the levels in Lake Monona (The Fishery of the Yahara Lakes). Some water quality improvements have been made in the lake's eutrophic condition over the years, mainly from the diversion of wastewater and other effluent loadings of nutrients around the Yahara River chain of lakes, yet the lake remains shallow, highly turbid and fertile. Purple loosestrife has also invaded the lake, crowding out more desirable wetland vegetation. Fisheries management staff observed, however, a number of native plants growing in the lake's southeast bay in the summer of 1996. Proposed management actions within the coming years include: rerouting a major storm sewer outfall through HoNeeUm pond; carp removal; wild rice reintroduction; and recoupling Gardner Marsh to the lake (Lathrop, 1996).

Lake Wingra was identified in 1997 as a Lower Rock River Basin Integrated Ecosystem Management (IEM) project. As such, a variety of monitoring and coordination activities are planned for the lake in an effort to improve or restore the system's ecological functions.

A number of research projects sponsored by Edgewood College and others, and conducted by the Heron Institute--a K-12 educational program--are underway on the lake: the effect cutting the woody, invasive red osier dogwood on emergent wetland vegetation; red-winged black birds as wetland indicator species; comparative study between Lake Wingra and Dunn's Prairie Pond, a sediment detention pond; the lake's bluegill population; and zooplankton populations and behavior (Bohanan). Lake Wingra is also a UW Center for Limnology Long-Term Ecological Research lake and has also been studied under the International Biological Program (see “Lake Wingra, 1837-1973: A Case History of Human Impact,” Baumann et al.).

Date  2002

Author   Aquatic Biologist

Historical Description

Source: 1985, Surface Water Resources of Dane County,WI: WI-DNR

Lake Wingra T7N, R9E, Sec. 27
surface acres 345, SDF = 1.61, Maximum depth = 21 ft

A natural, shallow basin overlying a feeder stream to the preglacial Yahara River, its outlet is Murphy Creek, a tributary to Lake Monona. The lake level is 1 ft lower than its original level, maintained by a dam at the outlet. Man-made changes in the lake and surrounding wetlands and watershed have adversely affected Lake Wingra. Dredging, draining, urbanization, construction, and road salt use have been the major factors affecting the physical and chemical characteristics of the lake. The introduction of carp was disastrous to the lake's biology, and the spread of Eurasian water-milfoil, an aquatic weed, has caused concern among biologists. Baumann et al. (1974) provide an excellent summary of Lake Wingra's history.

Conditions in Lake Wingra have improved slightly in recent years. A carp removal program ran from 1936-55, and barriers were constructed at the outlet to prevent carp from entering. The City of Madison is reducing the use of road salt on city streets and the chloride levels in Lake Wingra are beginning to fall. Settling ponds constructed along storm sewers have proven effective in reducing the nutrient loading of the lake. Siltation, shoreline erosion, and the past draining and filling of wetlands reduces the recreational quality and fishery of Lake Wingra.

The fishery of Lake Wingra is dominated by stunted panfish (Churchill 1976), and it is best described as a bass-panfish lake. Carp removal allowed the domination of the macrophyte community by Eurasian water-milfoil, which has provided excellent spawning habitat for panfish, especially the bluegill. Predaceous rough fish such as longnose gar and bowfin were removed with the carp, thereby lessening predation on the panfish. Poor northern pike reproduction has also resulted in reduced panfish predation. True and hybrid muskie are being stocked in Lake Wingra. It is hopedthat muskie will replace northern pike as an effective restraint on the panfish population and as a prized, spirited game fish. While other panfish have been stunted, crappies have exhibited good growth rates in Lake Wingra and a state record black crappie was caught in 1981. Nearly all frontage on the lake is in public ownership, either as parkway, city park, or part of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Boat launching is available at Vilas and Wingra parks.

Fish Species: longnose gar, bowfin, central mudminnow, northern pike, muskie, hybrid muskie, common carp, golden shiner, bluntnose and fathead minnow, white sucker, black, brown, and yellow bullhead, brook silverside, rock bass, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, bluegill, largemouth bass, white and black crappie, yellow perch, and walleye.

Date  1985

Author   Surface Water Inventory Of Wisconsin

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

Impaired Waters

Lake Wingra (WBIC 805000) was placed on the impaired waters list for PCBs in 2012. This lake was assessed during the 2018 listing cycle; new total phosphorus sample data were clearly below the 2018 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Recreation use and the Fish and Aquatic Life use. This water was meeting these designated uses but was not meeting the Fish Consumption use and was therefore considered impaired.

Date  2017

Author  Ashley Beranek

Impaired Waters

Lake Wingra (805000) was placed on the impaired waters list for total phosphorus and PCBs in 2012. This water was assessed during the 2016 listing cycle and total phosphorus sample data clearly met 2016 WisCALM listing thresholds for the Recreation use and Fish and Aquatic Life use. The total phosphorus listing is proposed for deletion. Lake Wingra is still considered impaired for PCBs.

Date  2015

Author  Aaron Larson


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.



Project Deliverable
assess turbidity in Lake Wingra using a variety of methods to prioritize the three major sources: carp activity, wind, and external storm event loading. This will allow lake managers to determine optimal management actions to improve water clarity. They will create a watershed model to divide the watershed into sub-basins to determine loadings and discharges for each sub-basin. This will allow identification of critical site areas that need to be remediated. A final report and raw data will be provided to DNR.
Water Quality Modeling
Lakes Planning Grant
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.
Best Management Practices, Implement
The City of Madison is planning to build a rain garden street as a demonstration project in order to reduce runoff and promote infiltration. This trial rain street will be used to assess the costs of a rain garden street and the feasibility of applying this technique on a wide scale.
County Land and Water Management Plan
The Dane County Land Conservation Department will implement a Lake Wingra Shoreline Habitat Restoration project in order to restore native species and natural habitats, to control exotic and invasive speies that threaten native species and habitats and to reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff on Lake Wingra's water quality.
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.

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 Wingra 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 Wingra is considered a Shallow 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.

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