One of the reports is for Soft Maple and Hay creeks near Weyerhaeuser. This is Little Soft Maple Creek.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is responsible for safeguarding clean waters, but the public is an active participant in helping identify protection and restoration priorities and implementing solutions. Now is the time to add your voice to Wisconsin’s future watershed plans.

The DNR is soliciting public input on 25 new Clean Water Act Targeted Watershed Assessment (TWA) reports – a valuable tool for documenting the progress made in protecting waterbodies throughout the state and for announcing recommended next steps for each waterway. 

One of the reports is for Soft Maple and Hay creeks near Weyerhaeuser. This watershed was previously a Priority Watershed Project which was a cooperative effort to assess and address nonpoint pollution sources between the DNR, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection and Local Land Conservation Departments throughout the state.

The targeted watershed assessment project goal was to collect biological, physical, and chemical parameters within the Soft Maple-Hay Creek watershed and use these data to describe the current condition of the watershed. Where possible, compare the current conditions of the waterways to the historical water quality data collected prior to the implementation of the priority watershed project. The report presents monitoring results, identifies issues, or concerns, and provides recommendations for future monitoring and management.

“The DNR’s Water Quality Program is responsible for monitoring Wisconsin waters and planning a cleaner, healthier future for the state’s aquatic ecosystems,” said Adrian Stocks, director of the Bureau of Water Quality. “These TWA reports reflect the year-round efforts undertaken by our team members to gather and assess data on stream water quality, habitat and aquatic life in order to protect our waterbodies and ensure their long-term viability. We are proud to present these reports to the public, and we ask that Wisconsinites statewide participate by reviewing the reports and providing comments and suggestions to the DNR.” 

The Soft Maple and Hay Creek Watershed located in Rusk County is 113,122 acres or 176.75 miles in size. Over 266 miles of streams and rivers, 1,050 acres of lakes and 14,185 acres of wetlands are located in the watershed. Land use is dominated by forest at 54.46 percent, agriculture at 18.81percent and wetlands at 14.85 percent. In the 1990s the area was ranked high for nonpoint source issues affecting streams and groundwater. Water quality degradation by cattle and barnyard runoff is a problem in this watershed. The only point source discharge to surface water is from the village of Weyerhaeuser, which discharges to a tributary to Soft Maple Creek.

The northwest third of the watershed is a portion of the “Blue Hills” area. This area contains steep quartzite ridges overlain by a mix of glacial ground and end moraines. The Blue Hills area is the headwaters for many of the trout streams in the watershed including Devils, Clear, Becky, Alder and Little Soft Maple Creeks. These high gradient streams originate in the Blue Hills and flow into an area of pitted outwash along the banks of the Chippewa River, a second landscape feature. This area of pitted outwash is relatively flat with scattered depressions. Here the stream gradients decrease and areas of depositional material such as sands and small gravel become more numerous in the stream beds. The third landscape feature is an area of glacial end moraines in the southwestern corner of the watershed near Weyerhaeuser. This area has numerous small ridges and large wetland areas. Much of the Big Soft Maple Creek subwatershed is in this area. Soils throughout the watershed are mostly loams with some areas of sandy loam, sand, and silts. Lake Superior greatly influences the northern portion of the ecological landscape especially during the winter season, producing greater snowfall than in most areas in Wisconsin.

The Clean Water Act requires states publish waters that do not meet water quality standards. This list of impaired waters is updated every two years. There are three waters — Becky Creek, Amacoy Lake and Perch Lake — listed as impaired in this watershed. They are impaired from nonpoint source pollution and air deposition.

The Rusk County Land Conservation Department administered the watershed project at the local level over an 11-year period, from 1996 through 2007. The project goal was to reduce nonpoint source impacts to waterways by working with landowners to install agricultural BMPs throughout the watershed. Rusk County LCD staff reported to the WDNR the name of property owners, site location, and types of Best Management Practices implemented.

A total of 68 BMPs were reportedly installed by 35 different property owners. There were 19 named practices installed in 10 subwatersheds with named waterways. The Big Soft Maple and Devils Creek sub-watersheds had the most BMPs installed, with 26 and 13 practices respectively. Nutrient management and streambank shore protection-riprap were the most common BMPs practices, with 12 and 8 installations respectively.

The primary purpose of this TWA project was to collect biological, physical, and chemical parameters to characterize the Soft Maple Hay Creek Watershed and its tributaries and compare the current conditions of the waterways to the historical water quality data collected prior to the implementation of the priority watershed project. Much of these pre-data were collected in in the early 1990s as part of the watershed appraisal process. 

Fish surveys were used to determine the correct natural community of watershed streams. Fish surveys, macroinvertebrate samples, quantitative and qualitative habitat evaluations, and nutrient sampling were used to gather water quality information of the waterways in the watershed.

A total of 15 fish surveys were conducted on seven  named waterways. These waterways included Devils Creek, Alder Creek, Becky Creek, Clear Creek, Big Soft Maple Creek, Little Soft Maple Creek and Hay Creek. There were 26 species of fish captured in the surveys. Fifty-eight percent of the fish species captured in the surveys were tolerant species.

Stream and riparian habitat quality were assessed at 13 fish survey stations based on DNR Wadeable Stream Quantitative Fish Habitat Rating guidance and at two sites with the Wadeable Stream Qualitative Fish Habitat Rating Guidance. The quantitative habitat rankings ranged from fair to good for the 13 sites surveyed. The Devils Creek site at Wis. 40 was the only fair score. The other sites all were rated good. Due to time limitations qualitative habitat surveys were done at the upstream site on the Big Soft Maple Creek and at the Haymeadow Creek site. Both scores were rated excellent

Macroinvertebrate samples were collected at 10 sites in 2015 during this project period.

The samples were generally collected at the downstream survey site. Two streams, Becky and Little Soft Maple, had a second sample collected at the headwater sites. A mid reach  macroinvertebrate sample was collected at Devils Creek at County O as part of another project and is included with this study. The MIBI scores ranged from 5.5 – 9.7. All sites were rated good or excellent in the 2015 study. Biological index scores ranged from 1.9 - 4.3, again in the good to excellent range.

Thirteen of the survey sites were sampled for total phosphorus, ammonia as N, Nitrate+Nitrite, Total Nitrogen and Total Suspended Solids each one time between June and September 2019. Field Measurements of dissolved oxygen, temperature, specific conductance, pH and transparency were recorded at each sampling event. Total phosphorus values were observed above the state standard in Becky, Devils, Little Soft Maple and Big Soft Maple Creeks.

The Soft Maple Hay Creek watershed has high quality waters with good aquatic habitat, which are currently supporting diverse biological communities. There are streams with elevated water chemistry nutrient values that are influenced by watershed land use. However, the undeveloped nature and large wetland component of the watershed are likely buffering any impacts to the aquatic biota.

Each of the TWA reports provides water quality priorities, recommendations and a list of detailed local plans and contacts related to protection or restoration of the watershed. The reports can be found on the DNR’s Water Quality Plans & Reports webpage at https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/SurfaceWater/wqmplan.

If you live or work in a watershed addressed in one of the reports, consider reviewing the proposed information and provide your feedback via email to WQPlanPublicInquiry@wisconsin.gov.  

Comments will be reviewed and incorporated into the plans before they are sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of the state’s Area-wide Water Quality Management Plan under the federal Clean Water Act.

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