Taylor Creek-Sugar R. TWA WQM Plan , 2017

Project Title

Taylor Creek - Sugar River Targeted Watershed Assessment WQM Plan 2017 (SP11)
James Amrhein, Author and Water Quality Biologist
Review PDF (Printable) Version of Plan for Public Review

Study Purpose & Setting

The overall goal of this plan is to improve and protect water quality in the basin. This Targeted Watershed Assessment monitoring project provided substantial data to analyze current conditions and to make recommendations for future management actions in the area. This plan is designed to present monitoring study results, identify issues or concerns in the area found during the project and to make recommendations to improve or protect water quality consistent with Clean Water Act guidelines and state water quality standards.

The Purpose of the Monitoring Project
Monitor the contemporary status for this watershed (HUC 10) in the Lower Sugar River watershed. The department needs current fish, habitat, macroinvertebrate and water chemistry data for streams in this watershed. The data will be used to determine whether these streams are achieving their attainable use in order to update the watershed tables, list waters that are not meeting their attainable use, and assess the overall health of the watersheds as required by Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act. The data, used in conjunction with observations about watershed health, will be used to guide planning for improvements where needed.

Management Priorities

The ideal scenario would be facilitate the re-meandering of stream channels in the watershed. However, this may not be cost-effective or practical, especially in the contemporary agricultural economy. Therefore, DNR staff and partners must work with landowners in the watershed to encourage management of woody vegetation to prevent overgrowth along banks and control regrowth, and encourage landowners to use management practices that avoid destabilization of banks (i.e. cutting and grubbing of the shoreline with no shaping, sloping or mulching). These recommendations reflect the management goals for the are include:

-Stream stabilization
-Enhancement/restoration of aquatic habitat
-Reduction of sediment and nutrient runoff and erosion from streams in agriculturally dominated landscapes
-Encourage and facilitate partnership and educational efforts to provide sustainable improvements that provide long-term management results


Watershed Overview
The Lower Sugar River watershed lies in southeast Green and southwest Rock Counties. It contains an 18.4 mile stretch of the Sugar River from the dam at Decatur Lake downstream to the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. The watershed is intensively agricultural with scattered grasslands and woodlots. Two municipalities, Brodhead and Orfordville, discharge to the Sugar River and Swan Creek, respectively. The Juda wastewater treatment facility discharges to groundwater. One industrial facility, Sylvester Whey, discharges to the North Fork Juda Branch. Polluted runoff is the primary cause of water quality and in-stream habitat problems. Point source pollution is also a problem on the North Fork Juda Branch. The North Fork Juda Branch and Spring Creek are on the state's list of impaired (303d) waters, mainly due to habitat impairments caused by non-point source pollution. Many of the streams in this watershed have not been monitored in the last 10 years.

Population, Land Use, Site Characteristics
Land use in the Sugar River Watershed (the larger catchment) is dominated to a great extent by agricultural use. This intensive land use places a toll on the condition of resources in the area; yet, management actions are available to maintain and improve the conditions of streams in the area. This largely pastoral landscape is prototypically rural Wisconsin with working fields sprinkled with wind-rows and somewhat controlled and heavily used tributaries and receiving streams of the Sugar River Basin.

Watershed Link

Ecological Landcapes

The Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape makes up the bulk of the non-coastal land area in southeast Wisconsin. This Ecological Landscape is made up of glacial till plains and moraines. Most of this Ecological Landscape is composed of glacial materials deposited during the Wisconsin Ice Age, but the southwest portion consists of older, pre-Wisconsin till with a more dissected topography. Soils are lime-rich tills overlain in most areas by a silt-loam loess cap. Agricultural and residential interests throughout the landscape have significantly altered the historical vegetation. Most of the rare natural communities that remain are associated with large moraines or in areas where the Niagara Escarpment occurs close to the surface.

Historically, vegetation in the Southeast Glacial Plains consisted of a mix of prairie, oak forests and savanna, and maple-basswood forests. Wet-mesic prairies, southern sedge meadows, emergent marshes, and calcareous fens were found in lower portions of the landscape. End moraines and drumlins supported savannas and forests. Agricultural and urban land use practices have drastically changed the land cover of the Southeast Glacial Plains since Euro-American settlement. The current vegetation is primarily agricultural cropland. Remaining forests occupy only about 10% of the land area and consist of maple-basswood, lowland hardwoods, and oak. No large mesic forests exist today except on the Kettle Interlobate Moraine which has topography too rugged for agriculture. Some existing forest patches that were formerly savannas have succeeded to hardwood forest due to fire suppression.


The entire basin is characterized by the lack of natural lakes and wetlands; wetland complexes are few in the driftless region and there are only 13 named lakes in the basin-- most of them impoundments on streams. The water quality of these lakes is marginal due to heavy siltation from upland runoff. This siltation usually leads to shallow, mucky ponds with a low diversity of aquatic macrophytes and fish.

Eastern Green County and the Rock County part of the basin are in the Southeast Glacial Plains ecological landscape. The Southeast Glacial Plains landscape is underlain by dolomite with some limestone and shale. The topography is rolling glacial till and outwash plains dissected by numerous streams. Valleys tend to be broader and streams in this part of the basin do not have the higher gradients of those in the driftless part. The original vegetation of this part of the basin was a mixture of prairie, oak savanna, and mixed hardwood forests. The most significant wetland complexes are located along the Sugar River.

Site Selection & Study Design

The 2014 watershed survey was conducted by water resources biologists on 22 sites in the watershed. Sites were selected to cover named streams or major unnamed tributaries in the HUC 10.

Methods & Procedures

The fisheries assemblage was determined by electroshocking a section of stream with a minimum station length of 35 times the mean stream width (Lyons, 1992). A stream tow barge with a generator and two probes was used at most sites. A backpack shocker with a single probe was used at sites generally less than 2 meters wide. All fish were collected, identified, and counted. All gamefish were measured for length. At each site, qualitative notes on average stream width and depth, riparian buffers and land use, evidence of sedimentation, fish cover and potential management options were also recorded. A qualitative habitat survey (Simonson, et. al., 1994) was also performed at each site. Macroinvertebrate samples were obtained by kick sampling and collecting using a D-frame net at these same sites in the watershed in fall, 2014 and sent to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for analysis.

Additionally, water samples were collected once per month throughout the growing season (May through October) by volunteer monitors in 2013 and/or 2014 and 2015 at 6 sites in the watershed. Three of these sites (Spring Creek, Taylor Creek at Smith Road and Willow Creek) are at the pour point of the HUC 12s which make up the HUC 10 because it was practical to do so. Two sites on Swan and O.K. creeks - were near the pour point of these major tributaries. An additional site was collected in 2014 on Taylor Creek at W. Keesey Road for comparison with upstream/downstream of the confluence with Swan Creek. These samples were analyzed for total phosphorus.

Study Discussion

Most of the streams in this HUC 10 are modelled to be cool-cold transitional headwaters or mainstems (Lyons, 2008). The department has recently developed a draft method to determine whether or not the modeled natural community is accurate based on the fishery assemblage and climate conditions (Lyons, 2013). In most cases, the thermal composition of species (cold, warm, or transitional) indicated these streams resemble cool-warm systems rather than cool-cold systems. There is a fair amount of diversity of nongame species in most of the streams and coldwater species are absent for all intents and purposes.

Environmental degradation can sometimes explain the discrepancy between the modelled and actual community where there is a lack of intolerant species and a dominance of tolerant ones (Ibid). For most systems in this HUC 10, the percentage of tolerant fish fall with expected ranges for cool-cold transitional systems, and therefore a degraded community is not the principle reason for the discrepancy.

Actual water temperature data collected in the watershed shows summer temperatures to be within the realm of cold to cool-cold transitional systems (Lyons et. al., 2009). The discrepancy between the temperature data and the fishery community can happen for several reasons: either the year of the thermal measurement wasn?t representative of the long-term average, the modeled thermal values were inaccurate, or both (Lyons, personal communication). In this case, air temperatures during the 2014 ?summer? season over which the thermistors were deployed were not considered abnormal save for a one week period at the end of July and beginning of August when temperatures were considered abnormally cool. However, it is unlikely this weather affected the fish assemblage because the species found favored transitional and warm water systems despite the cool temperatures. The fishery assemblage encountered in 2014 is similar to that found in other years dating back to 2001 (WDNR, unpublished data), and therefore can also be considered representative of the stream. The fishery is a long-term gauge of conditions in the stream and is therefore most important for bioassessment. That?s not to say measured water temperatures aren?t useful, but for natural community determination and IBI purposes, and in the absence of moderate to severe environmental perturbation, the fishery assemblage trumps water temperature data (Lyons, personal communication).

Compared to streams in the northwest portion of the Lower Sugar watershed and the Lower Middle Sugar watershed which were sampled in 2013 (WDNR, 2015), these streams had a greater diversity of darters, and in particular Iowa and rainbow darters. There were also a greater number of intolerant species, but the percentage of tolerant species was similar. The great majority of the transitional species (brook stickleback, creek chubs, and white sucker) found in these streams are tolerant to low dissolved oxygen and/or disturbed habitat. These particular species tend to be more widespread throughout the state, including south central Wisconsin, as opposed to other more intermediate or low tolerance species which are not found in this area (Becker, 1983).

One interesting occurrence from this study was the discovery that Iowa darters, an intolerant warmwater species, were quite prevalent in the 2014 sampling and found at 13 of the 23 sites. When looking back at historic fisheries data back to 1875, there are scant reports of an individual or two being found in Willow Creek and O.K. Creek. They have historically been reported in this area of the Sugar River (Ibid). Iowa darters do well in sandy bottomed streams. They prefer submerged fibrous roots or filamentous algae for spawning and will only occasionally spawn on gravel. Their population size tends to be dependent the territorial society in that males can fertilize and care for only a limited number of eggs. Under crowded conditions, territories are not maintained and spawning is usually not successful (Ibid). The reason for the increase in incidence of Iowa darters in the 2014 surveys is unknown. Southern Wisconsin is near the southern edge of the species range. It is likely the Sugar River always harbors small populations of them. It can be surmised that weather conditions over the past several years just happened to be favorable for increased populations and expansion of their range into the Taylor Creek system.

Gamefish and/or panfish were virtually absent despite the proximity of several of the sites to the Sugar River. One could hypothesize the cool water temperatures limit the number of these species which generally inhabit the warmer waters of the Sugar River. However, there was a number of other (nongame) warmwater species present in these systems. The size of the streams may have been a limiting factor, but it is likely the general lack of fish cover and deeper pools that these species prefer plays a greater role.

The cool water IBIs (Lyons, 2012), when applied to the natural community indicated by the fishery assemblage, rates the fishery of most of these systems to be ?good? to ?excellent?, despite the prevalence of species that are tolerant to habitat disturbance and lower water quality. This prevalence of transitional tolerant species may be a factor of water temperature and/or environmental disturbance, but likely influenced by both. The fishery is only one environmental indicator and for this reason, the quality of the resources should be looked at in the context of overall conditions including habitat and macroinvertebrates.

Given the land use, hydrologic modifications, and biologists? observations of conditions in this watershed, there are suggestions of environmental disturbance. Overall habitat scores were fair to good, but were buoyed by several metrics that were favorable in this watershed. The buffer width was favorable at many sites although it must be acknowledged that some of this is coincidental with the streams being deeply entrenched with steep banks, making farming up to the stream edge impractical if not impossible. There is also very limited grazing along the banks of the streams. There are sites with a riparian wooded corridor, which acts as a buffer, but also exacerbates bank erosion. The width-to-depth ratio of these channelized systems was also generally good. Conversely, many of the stream sites contained a predominance of silt and sand on the bottom which inhibited the percent fines metric. This was very dependent on the gradient at a particular site. Fish cover was variable, but 70% of sites had only poor to fair fish cover. Because of the straightening and dredging of the stream channels to augment drainage from agricultural fields, the pool area and riffle/bend ratio were depressed. OK Creek and Spring Creek had the lowest overall scores, followed by Swan Creek and Taylor Creek. Willow Creek was good save for the site at Lee Road. The overall scores for the unnamed tributaries ranged from 35 (fair) to 50 (good).

For streams that feed into the Sugar River from the west (Spring and OK Creeks), their gradients are good on the western (headwaters) areas and tend to have more gradual slopes as they near the Sugar River. These lower gradient areas are also most likely to be channelized to promote drainage from fields. These streams tend to be wider and shallower than a natural condition. However, numerous blowdowns have created small holes, narrowing, and scouring to create some habitat for non-game fish. In spring, 2014, several severe storms hit the area and created fresh blowdowns across some of the streams. This decreased sampling efficiency at several sites and even forced biologists to truncate station length at a few of the sites. While blowdowns can create habitat for fish, they also exacerbate bank erosion, and cause further widening of the stream channel. Not surprisingly, species diversity increased at sites closer to the Sugar River.

Streams that lie to the east of Sugar River (Swan, Taylor, and Willow) have fairly low gradients. Many sections have been channelized to augment drainage of the wet meadows which they flow through. In contrast to streams on the west side of the Sugar River, these streams tend to have more channelization in the mid to upper portion of their thread, with more meandering occurring closer to the Sugar River. Sand dominates the bottom composition with a few areas of gravel, particularly toward the headwaters. Similarly to other streams in the area, species diversity gradually increases as one goes from the headwaters downstream toward the Sugar River.

The macroinvertebrate data was very consistent throughout the watershed, with macroinvertebrate IBIs generally in the ?fair? range. The macroinvertebrate IBI has shown the combination of watershed land cover and local riparian and instream conditions strongly influence one another (Weigel, 2003). While watershed and local variables explain a significant portion of variance among sites, Weigel found that in the driftless region, localized stressors were of greater importance to explain the IBI than in other parts of the state. The similarity amongst scores in this watershed as well as the adjacent watershed (WDNR, 2015) reflects the overall condition of the watershed in that these streams are highly modified systems flowing through an intensive agricultural landscape. The HBIs indicate there is little organic loading to these streams.

Growing season phosphorus concentrations varied amongst the streams and the sites. The department?s listing methodology for impaired waters (WDNR, 2013) recommends listing sites where the median phosphorus concentration exceeds 0.075 mg/l on wadable streams and 0.1 mg/l on rivers. The impairment listing protocol uses a 95% confidence interval about the median for listing streams and rivers. This guidance was exceeded on Swan Creek at Keesey Road and OK Creek at Mt. Hope Road. For all intents and purposes, the criteria was also exceeded at Taylor Creek at Smith Road, but was not exceeded upstream at W. Keesey Road. It is likely the phosphorus concentrations on Swan Creek and Taylor Creek at Smith Road are influenced by the wastewater discharge from Orfordville. OK Creek had a median concentration which was over double the criteria and all but 1 of the 18 samples taken over 3 years exceeded 0.075 mg/l. These concentrations are similar to Swan Creek, which receives a wastewater discharge. It is unknown why the phosphorus concentrations of OK Creek are almost double that of other streams in the area. A review of land use and nutrient management plans is warranted. The median concentration did not exceed the criteria nor data exceed the 95% confidence interval on Spring Creek and Willow Creek, but each of these systems had individual samples which exceeded the criteria and bare further monitoring.

It is interesting to note that the yearly median concentration increased at most sites in successive years from 2013 to 2015 at those sites where multiple years of data were available. The exception was on Taylor Creek at Smith Road, where it decreased in successive years (Figure 2). When compared to the long-term trend site on the Sugar River, the 3 year median also increased, indicating a more basin-wide phenomenon.

It is unknown what caused this trend. The precipitation was not considered extreme - below 10th percentile or above 90th percentile ? for the sample dates over this period (WDNR, 2013). This 3 year trend may be short-term as the 10 year median growing season phosphorus concentration on the Sugar River decreased (WDNR, unpublished data).

Management Recommendations

The department should work with watershed organizations such as the Lower Sugar River Watershed Association on outreach efforts with landowners in the watershed, environmental programs in the Juda and Brodhead school districts, and research opportunities for harvestable buffers to provide economic incentives for maintaining buffers along streams.

Monitoring Recommendations

-The entire length of OK Creek should be added to the state 303(d) list of impaired waters due to habitat degradation caused by excessive sediment deposition and channel straightening.
-OK Creek should also be added to the impaired waters list for total phosphorus as concentrations exceed the WisCALM (WDNR, 2018) guidance.
-The department should review land use and nutrient management efforts in this sub-watershed to determine if any improvements can be made to reduce phosphorus delivery to the stream.
-Swan Creek should be added to the 303(d) list of impaired waters for phosphorus that exceeds the criteria.
-Taylor Creek, from Swan Creek downstream to the Sugar River and Willow Creek should be added as a watch waters as total phosphorus concentrations are near the criteria for listing.
-Monitoring of phosphorus and nitrate concentrations in the streams of the Lower Sugar River should continue as funding and volunteer efforts allow.

Partner Recommendations

-The Lower Sugar River Watershed Association should apply for DNR grants to engage with local landowners and interested parties in projects that research the effectiveness of harvestable buffers in providing economic incentives for maintaining buffers along streams.
-Local partners should apply for funds to create educational programs that encourage landowners to leave some woody debris in Spring Creek as habitat for fish.

Monitoring and Planning

This Water Quality Management Plan was created under the state?s Water Quality Management Planning and Water Resources Monitoring Programs. The plan reflects Water Quality Bureau and Water Resources Monitoring Strategy 2015-2020 goals and priorities and fulfills Areawide Water Quality Management Planning milestones under the Clean Water Act, Section 208. Condition information and resource management recommendations support and guide program priorities for the plan area.

Related Studies, Plans

This plan is hereby approved by the Wisconsin DNR Water Quality Program and is a formal update to the Sugar Pecatonica Wisconsin Areawide Water Quality Management Plan and Wisconsins Statewide Areawide Water Quality Management Plan. This plan will be forwarded to USEPA for certification as a formal plan update.


James Amrhein, Primary Author and Investigator, Southern District, Wisconsin DNR
Victoria Ziegler, Program Support, Water Quality Bureau, Wisconsin DNR
Lisa Helmuth, Program Coordinator, Water Quality Bureau, Wisconsin DNR


Becker, George C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin Press. 1051 pp.

Hilsenhoff, William L. 1987. An Improved Biotic Index of Organic Stream Pollution. The Great Lakes Entomologist. 20: 31-39.

Lyons, John. 1992. Using the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) to Measure Environmental Quality in Warmwater Streams of Wisconsin. United States Department of Agriculture. General Technical Report NC-149.

Lyons, John. 2006. A Fish-based Index of Biotic Integrity to Assess Intermittent Headwater Streams in Wisconsin, USA. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 122: 239-258.

Lyons, John. 2008. Using the Wisconsin Stream Model to Estimate the Potential Natural Community of Wisconsin Streams (DRAFT). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Fish and Aquatic Life Research Section. November, 2008.

Lyons, John. T. Zorn, J. Stewart, P Seelbach, K Wehrly, and L. Wang. 2009. Defining and Characterizing Coolwater Streams and Their Fish Assemblages in Michigan and Wisconsin, USA. North American Journal of Fisheries Management. 29:1130-1151.

Lyons, John. 2012. Development and Validation of Two Fish-based Indices of Biotic Integrity for Assessing Perennial Coolwater Streams In Wisconsin, USA. Ecological Indicators 23 (2012) 402-412.

Lyons, John. 2013. Methodology for Using Field Data to Identify and Correct Wisconsin Stream ?Natural Community? Misclassifications. Version 4. May 16, 2013. IN DRAFT.

Simonson, Timothy D., J. Lyons, and P.D. Kanehl. 1994. Guidelines for Evaluating Fish Habitat in Wisconsin Streams. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forest Service. General Technical Report NC-164.

WDNR. 1980. Surface Water Resources of Green County. By D. Bush, R. Cornelius, D. Engel, C. Brynildson. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

WDNR. 2003. The State of the Sugar and Pecatonica River Basins. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

WDNR. 2013. Wisconsin 2014 Consolidated Assessment and Listing Methodology (WisCALM). Clean Water Act Section 305(b), 314, and 303(d) Integrated Reporting. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Bureau of Water Quality Program Guidance. September, 2013.

WDNR. 2015. An Assessment of Water Quality in the Lower Middle and Lower Sugar River Watershed (HUC 0709000406). 2013. Project SCR_20_CMP13. February, 2015. By James Amrhein, Water Quality Biologist
South District. http://prodoasint.dnr.wi.gov/wadrs/viewWatershedDetail.do?id=924722

Weigel, Brian. 2003. Development of Stream Macroinvertebrate Models That Predict Watershed and Local Stressors in Wisconsin. Journal of the North American Benthological Society. 22(1): 123-142.


BMP: Best Management Practice. A practice that is determined effective and practicable (including technological, economic, and institutional considerations) in preventing or reducing pollution generated from nonpoint sources to a level compatible with water quality goals.

DNR: Department of Natural Resources. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is an agency of the State of Wisconsin created to preserve, protect, manage, and maintain natural resources.

FIBI: Fish Index of biological integrity (Fish IBI). An Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) is a scientific tool used to identify and classify water pollution problems. An IBI associates anthropogenic influences on a water body with biological activity in the water and is formulated using data developed from biosurveys. In Wisconsin, Fish IBIs are created for each type of natural community in the state�s stream system.

HUC: Hydrologic Unit Code. A code or sequence of numbers that identify one of a number of nested and interlocked hydrologic catchments delineated by a consortium of agencies including USGS, USFS, and Wisconsin DNR.

MIBI: Macroinvertebrate Index of biological integrity. In Wisconsin, the MIBI, or macroinvertebrate Index of biological integrity, was developed specifically to assess Wisconsin�s macroinvertebrate community (see also Fish IBI).

Natural Community. A system of categorizing waterbodies based on their inherent physical, hydrologic, and biological assemblages. Both Streams and Lakes are categorized using an array of �natural community� types.

Monitoring Seq. No. Monitoring Sequence Number, refers to a unique identification code generated by the Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS), which holds much of the state�s water quality monitoring data.

SWIMS ID. Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS) Identification Code is the unique monitoring station identification number for the location where monitoring data was gathered.

TWA: Targeted Watershed Assessment. A statewide study design a rotating watershed approach to gathering of baseline monitoring data with specialized targeted assessments for unique and site specific concerns, such as effectiveness monitoring of management actions.

WATERS ID: The Waterbody Assessment, Tracking and Electronic Reporting System Identification Code (WATERS ID) is a unique numerical sequence number assigned by the WATERS system, also known as �Assessment Unit ID code�.

WBIC: Water Body Identification Code. WDNR�s unique identification codes assigned to water features in the state. The lines and information allow the user to execute spatial and tabular queries about the data, make maps, and perform flow analysis and network traces.