The Middle Grant River watershed covers about 80 square miles in west central Grant County. The topography is gently to moderately rolling land with steep-side valleys and broad ridgetops. The watershed is part of the larger Grant River drainage area that is one of the major contributors of sediment to the Mississippi River. The USGS maintains a flow monitoring station on the Grant River near Burton. Data from this station shows that almost 54,000 tons of sediment was discharged to the river above Burton during 1998 (Holmstrom, et.al., 1998).
There are 97.3 total miles of streams in the watershed. There are only a few wetlands in the watershed and they lie next to or very near streams. These wetlands are disturbed by agricultural activities, primarily grazing or cultivation during drier periods. There are no cold water streams or exceptional resource waters in the watershed. There are 42 miles of warm water sport fishery. Hackett Branch was added to the state's list of impaired streams in 1998. The streams and watershed as a whole have been ranked as a medium priority for non-point source pollution and the groundwater is considered vulnerable to potential contamination as a result of non-point source pollution. Blake Fork has been ranked as a high priority for a small-scale non-point source pollution abatement project.
Population, Land Use
The topography is gently to moderately rolling land with steep-sided valleys and broad ridge tops. In certain areas, bedrock outcroppings are readily visible on the stream bottoms and along the stream corridors. Agriculture makes up approximately 90 percent of the land cover. Generally, 55-70% of the landcover in the subwatersheds is in cropland while 21-25% is in pasture. While the hilltops are generally cropped, the stream valleys are pastured and the highly agricultural landscape and steep slopes lend themselves to delivery of high sediment loads to the streams that drain the valleys. Bank erosion is a major problem in the watershed. The steep gradients of the streams prevents buildup of sediment in the streams themselves save for the deeper pools, but the problem is moved downstream to larger, lower gradient systems like the lower Grant River and the Mississippi River. The Grant River has historically carried one of the highest sediment loads in the state, which can be evidenced by the delta of eroded sediments that has developed at the river�s mouth (WDNR, 2001).
Population, Land Use
Agriculture is the main land use in the watershed. Approximately 70 percent of the land use is either cropland or pasture. The watershed's estimated annual soil loss is 7.4 tons per acre per year (Midwest Reclamation Planners, no date). Grant County LCD has ranked this watershed as Grant County's second priority area for erosion control in the county.
There are only three municipalities in the watershed; Lancaster (4,242), Patch Grove (204), and Bloomington (761). None of these municipalities are experiencing rapid growth. Each of the municipalities has a public wastewater treatment plant that discharges treated effluent to surface waters and all of these facilities are generally functioning well with no recent significant problems.
Nonpoint and Point Sources
Nutrient enrichment has been a problem in these watersheds. In the late 1980�s, dissolved oxygen levels approaching 0 mg/l were reported following rain events and subsequently resulted in fish mortality (WDNR, 1991). The nutrient enrichment is
also evident in the enhanced numbers of fish, particularly omnivores, present in a system. Biologists noted that, in conducting these shocking surveys, it was impossible to capture the shear biomass (numbers of fish). Despite capturing hundreds and even thousands of fish at some sites, biologist estimated that they were only successful in capturing one-third to one-half of the fish present in many of the surveys. The nutrient loads enhance algal and periphyton growth, which then enhances available food for grazers and this pattern is repeated up the food chain. Contrary to the conventional thinking that more fish equates to a healthier system, the enhanced abundance of fish is actually a sign of nonpoint source pollution impact, and while these streams may not necessarily be considered as impaired, it does indicate excessive eutrophication of these systems.
The City of Lancaster has been known to have a significant water quality impact on Pigeon Creek (Fix, 1991). Since 1991, however, Lancaster has undertaken improvements to its wastewater treatment plant and collection system to address this problem. Recent compliance monitoring annual reports submitted by the city and Department inspection reports show the facility to be in good operating condition. The primary problem the facility has now is excessive influent loading during major storm events that has resulted in some bypassing of effluent. The City is reviewing the infiltration problem with its collection system and will be addressing this problem through better maintenance and improvements of that system. Recent whole effluent toxicity testing of the City�s effluent indicated no problems. Lancaster also needs to address potential construction site erosion control and community wide stormwater management issues and problems. As of October 2000, Lancaster is challenging the phosphorus limits in its WPDES wastewater discharge permit. Foremost Foods operates a milk processing plant in Lancaster. This facility currently, (2001), sends its process and sanitary wastewater to the Lancaster wastewater treatment plant. Foremost is proposing to treat its wastewater on-site for discharge of the treated effluent to a tributary of Pigeon Creek.
The Middle Grant River watershed is located primarily in the Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape which is located in the far southwestern part of the state. It is characterized by deeply dissected topography, unglaciated for the last 2.4 million years, with broad open hilltops and river valleys, and steep wooded slopes. The climate is favorable for agriculture but the steep slopes limit it to the hilltops and valley bottoms. Soils are underlain with calcareous bedrock. Soils on hilltops are silty loams, sometimes of shallow depth over exposed bedrock and stony red clay subsoil. Some valley soils are alluvial sands, loams, and peats. Some hilltops are almost treeless due to the thin soil while others have a deep silt loam cap.
Historic vegetation consisted of tall prairie grasses and forbs with oak savannas and some wooded slopes of oak. Almost three-quarters of the current vegetation is agricultural crops with lesser amounts of grasslands, barrens, and urban areas. The major forest types are oak-hickory and maple-basswood. High-quality prairie remnants occur on rocky hilltops and slopes that are not farmed. Some prairie pastures and oak savannas still exist. The grassland areas harbor many rare grassland birds, invertebrates, and other grassland species. Relict stands of pine occur on bedrock outcroppings along some stream systems.
Public recreational opportunities are minimal in the watershed. The only public lands are municipal parks in the three municipalities. Public access to streams is available only at road crossings. Hunting is allowed on private lands with the permission of the property owner.
Most of the waters in these watersheds to be cool transitional waters; the coolwater IBI (Lyons, 2012) was applied to all streams. A total of 35 species were found throughout the watershed. White sucker, johnny and fantail darters, creek chub, common shiner, central stoneroller and bluntnose minnow were the most widely distributed species. Smallmouth bass were found at 21 of the 32 sites. Most species found were either coolwater transitional species or warmwater species (Ibid). Brown trout, a stenothermal coldwater species was found at 3 sites in limited numbers.
Qualitative habitat surveys showed most sites to be �fair� to �good� in habitat rating. A majority of stream sites had poor to fair buffer scores due to the prevalence of pasturing in stream valleys throughout the watershed. However, while many of the banks were noted as trampled, many remained grassed and thus the bank erosion scores were generally �good� to �excellent�. Many of the systems received good to excellent scores for riffle-to-riffle ratio, fine sediments, and fish cover owing to the good gradient of the streams in this area which allows for scouring of sediments and provides good riffle-run-pool complexes.
River and Stream QualityAll Waters in Watershed
The streams of these two watersheds have historically contained populations of smallmouth bass and a diversity of nongame species. While the Grant River itself was not surveyed as part of this study, it offers a source of species recruitment, a conduit for fish movement, and a refuge for larger fish during the winter and low water years. The tributaries to the Grant River contain a subset of its species assemblage. Rattlesnake Creek supports a fishable population of smallmouths as does Boice Creek albeit to a lesser extent. The other streams in the watershed are home to high populations of nongame species, but can also serve as nursery streams for smallmouth bass and provide an important role in maintaining healthy bass populations. Several small unnamed headwater streams, which are primarily spring and seepage fed, contained limited numbers of fish, not only due to their small size, but likely also because their water temperatures were too cold to be tolerated by the majority of species making up these watersheds.
This area has also been historically impacted by chronic nonpoint source pollution problems. The priority watershed project which took place in the early 1990�s documented flashy nature of these high gradient systems, the inherent erosion, and the large sediment loads being delivered from the Grant River watersheds. The priority watershed project conducted in the 1990�s was only partially successful at reaching the goals of sediment and nutrient reduction (WDNR, 2001).
Approximately 90 percent of the land use in these watersheds is in agriculture, either row crops or grazing. For the most part, conservation practices such as contouring and strip cropping are practiced throughout the watersheds. Spring melt and early season rains, especially before crops are of sufficient size to reduce rain impact, can greatly increase the amount of sediment and nutrients reaching the streams.
Date 2012 Watershed Trout StreamsWatershed Outstanding & Exceptional Resources
Lakes and Impoundments
Impaired WatersList of Impaired Waters
Monitoring & Projects
Projects including grants, restoration work and studies shown below have occurred in this watershed. Click the links below to read through the text. While these are not an exhaustive list of activities, they provide insight into the management activities happening in this watershed.
In the 1980�s the lower and middle Grant watersheds were subject to intense studies which resulted in a good appraisal of the watersheds. The studies showed the major impacts to streams to be reduced dissolved oxygen levels causing occasional fish-kills. Of secondary importance was habitat loss due to silt on the streambed filling in the pools. Diurnal oxygen variations during high flow events caused fish mortality. The low level oxygen was likely due to high levels of organic matter from manure entering the streams (WDNR, 1991). The Lower Grant River watershed was selected as Wisconsin non-point source abatement priority watershed project in 1989. The 10 year project was designed to enlist willing landowners in the watershed to install non-point source best management practices to protect water resources and improve farm conservation practices. The voluntary nature of the priority watershed project limited its success to some extent (WDNR, 2001).
Monitor biology on WBIC: 963000
Conduct biological (mIBI or fIBI) monitoring on Unnamed, WBIC: 963000, AU:13919
Monitor biology on WBIC: 961400
Conduct biological (mIBI or fIBI) monitoring on Hackett Br, WBIC: 961400, AU:18566
Monitor biology on WBIC: 960800
Conduct biological (mIBI or fIBI) monitoring on Unnamed, WBIC: 960800, AU:5727363
The DNR and other partners should investigate ways to reduce sediment loading to Pigeon Creek.
Snowden (Big Patch) Branch TMDL
The sediment TMDL was approved September 12, 2006.
Castle Rock & Gunderson Creek TMDL
The Castle Rock and Gunderson Creek TMDL was created to address phosphorus, sediment, and for at least one creek biological oxygen demand. The TMDL was approved and is in implementation through projects funded by the Clean Water Act Section 319 Program.
Watershed History Note
The City of Lancaster can be found among the rocky bluffs, wooded valleys and meandering creeks in the Middle Grant River Watershed. Lancaster was the home of the first governor of Wisconsin, Nelson Dewey.
Lancaster is home to a number of architectural significant buildings including the Grant County Courthouse, which was built in 1905. Designed by architect Armand Koch, the majestic brownstone building with its octagonal glass and copper dome is visible for miles around. Inside the courthouse dome are four breathtaking murals painted by Franz Edward Rohrbeck.
Built in 1922, another historic landmark in Lancaster, Wisconsin is City Hall, which includes a fabulous movie theater. This striking building designed by renowned architects Claude & Starck is an excellent example of prairie-style architecture. In addition, the post office contains a Depression-era mural, painted under the Works Progress Administration program in the 1930s.