Manitowoc-Sheboygan Watershed

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Hydrologic Unit Code: 04030101

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Watershed Overview

Totaling 1,652 square miles, the Manitowac-Sheboygan Watershed includes the Branch River, the North and South Branches of the Manitowac River, the Lower Manitowac River, Sevenmile and Silver Creeks, (all in the Manitowac subwatershed) Sauk and Sucker Creeks, the Black River, the Sheboygan River, the Onion River, the Mullet River, and the Pigeon River (in the Sheboygan River subwatershed). Runoff from specific and diffuse sources, contaminated sediments, habitat degradation (i.e. channalization, dams) have degraded water quality throughout the watershed.

Agriculture is the predominant land use in the watershed which includes pasture land, cropland, and vacant fields. Natural areas, including open water, woodlands, wetlands, parklands and undisturbed non-agricultural lands are the second most abundant land use. Grasslands and barrens are promoted through prescribed burns and mowing.

Recreational highlights include wildlife watching, hiking, fishing, birding, bicycling, golf, horseback riding, snowmobiling, skiing, camping, picnicking and water sports. State facilities such as the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Kohler-Andrae State Parks, Harrington Beach State Park, various state wildlife areas, and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail provide both satisfying and unique recreational experiences. Some streams throughout the watershed have the ability to support trout populations and have spring and fall runs of stocked Steelhead and Salmon. Other fishing opportunities exist in rivers and harbors for Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, and Yellow Perch.

The watershed has two primary ecological landscapes which include Southeast Glacial Plains and Northern Lake Michigan Ecological Landscapes that provide habitat for several species. Wildlife includes White-tailed Deer, Ring-Necked Pheasant, Waterfowl, Geese, Gray and Flying Squirrels, Raccoons, Woodcock, a variety of hawks, songbirds, and shorebirds. The National Heritage Inventory has documented 10 endangered, 20 threatened, and 37 special concern plant and animal species, and 24 rare aquatic and terrestrial communities with the Sheboygan River Basin.

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The Nature Conservancy has identified critical habitats of Black Ash – Mixed Hardwood Swamp, Great Lakes Dune Pine Forest, Great Lakes Hemlock – Beech – Hardwood Forest, Great Lakes Beachgrass Dunes, and Great Lakes Beach as well as baymouth/barrier beaches with sand near shore at Point Beach State Park. In addition, Pitcher’s Thistle and the Piping Plover has been identified as a critical species at Point Beach State Park.

Between 1996 and 2001, there has been a slight increase in developed land, wetland, and grassland, and a slight decrease in farmland and forest.

Watershed Activities

There have been several environmental concerns for the Sheboygan River Management area that have been identified. They are:

  • Water quality problems from in-place pollutants, runoff from urban areas, floodplain development, and agricultural practices.
  • Preserve biodiversity and protect threatened and endangered species by preserving their habitat.
  • A need for a comprehensive approach to wetland protection and restoration.
  • Educate people to prevent the spread of exotic nuisance species
  • Monitoring of wildlife populations, water quality, and ecosystem function are needed to understand the status and trends of resources in the basin.

Partnership priorities for the Sheboygan River include:

  • Educate members and the public about the ecology of the Sheboygan River Basin and threats to its health.
  • Promote sustainable use and recreation in the Sheboygan River Basin and its watersheds.
  • Increase public awareness and membership
  • Promote sound decision making when issues affect the health of the basin’s rivers and watersheds.
  • Support the protection and improvement of the Sheboygan River Basin and its watersheds for the benefit of the general public.
  • Develop a working relationship with local officials and collaborate with conservation organizations.
  • Promote improved health of the rivers and watersheds through conservation projects and education.
  • Purchase or promote the purchase of land or easements for conservation purposes.

Several actions have been undertaken in pursuit of these goals. In particular, numerous projects has been undertaken to install buffers to control runoff. For streams that have been impaired by bacterial contamination, there have been project undertaken to control animal waste runoff. Steps have been taken to acquire public land, remove small ponds and dams, install lunker structures and implement farm runoff management practices.

Willow Creek, a tributary to the Sheboygan River that has its confluence in the AOC, receives annual runs of trout and salmon from Lake Michigan. Surveys have discovered the presence of young brook trout and salmon, indicating some amount of natural reproduction. In light of this, several areas of the stream have been identified for improvements and the SRBP has been meeting with landowners and local municipal officials to discuss improvement projects. The SRBP is also actively seeking funds to implement stream improvements.

Recent trout surveys on the Onion River indicate that a newly instituted fishing regulation change on the river has protected many fish from harvest. The intent is to promote natural reproduction of trout in the system.

Sheboygan River Area of Concern

The Sheboygan River Area of Concern (AOC) encompasses the lower Sheboygan River downstream from the Sheboygan Falls Dam, including the entire harbor and nearshore waters of Lake Michigan. The AOC serves as a sink for pollutants carried from three watersheds: the Sheboygan River, Mullet River and Onion River. Pollutants of concern, both conventional and toxic, have been identified as suspended solids, fecal coliform bacteria, phosphorus, nitrogen, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals. The Sheboygan River Basin is located in portions of five counties. Industrial, agricultural and residential areas line the rivers of the basin. Agriculture is the dominant land use in the area, totaling 67%. The Sheboygan, Onion and Mullet River Basins contain three cities, eleven villages and seven towns. The cities of Sheboygan and Sheboygan Falls and the Village of Kohler are all located within the AOC.

Sheboygan River priorities include remediation of contaminated sediments, nonpoint source pollution control, brownfield and waterfront restoration, and habitat protection and restoration.

In 1985, the lower Sheboygan River and Harbor were designated an AOC because of water quality and habitat problems associated with the historical discharge of pollutants into the AOC and the potential adverse effect the pollutants could have on Lake Michigan. The high levels of nutrients, solids and toxics entering the river had caused a series of problems including nuisance algal blooms, fish consumption advisories and contaminated sediments. The pollutant discharges also were suspected of contributing to the degradation of wildlife, fish, benthos and plankton populations and the reduction in fish and wildlife habitat.

Of the 14 beneficial uses, these are impaired for Sheboygan River:

  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  • Fish tumors or other deformities
  • Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
  • Degradation of benthos
  • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
  • Restriction on dredging activities
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

Watershed Groups

  • Sheboygan River Basin Partnership –
  • Lakeshore Basin Website –
  • Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership –
  • Sheboygan River Basin DNR Team –
  • Vic Pappas, Sheboygan River Basin Water Team Leader –
  • Deb Beyer, UW Extension Basin Educator, Lakeshore & Sheboygan Basins –

For more information, see the USEPA “Surf Your Watershed” website at

The Wisconsin DNR divides the Sheboygan-Manitowac watershed (as defined by the USGS) between the Sheboygan basin management area and the Lakeshore basin management area. For more information, see the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ “Wisconsin’s Basins” website at

Manitowoc-Sheboygan Additional information is available at Michigan State University's Institute for Water Research's Digital Watershed Tool at: This site has interactive watershed-based information on industrial facilities discharge sites, toxic release inventory, permit compliance system, water quality stations, bacteria stations, national sediment inventory stations, best management practices, water quality observation stations, weather data stations, impaired waters (reach and area), landcover change (1992-2001), landuse 2001, soil, and elevation.

Watershed Data and Information

USGS Water Resources Links for: 04030101 - Manitowoc-Sheboygan

USGS State Information and Contacts:

Current Water Data:

All Water Data (Current and Historic Sites):

Other Data Links:

Current Regional/National Conditions:

Search USGS for Links, Publications and Web Sites Associated with:

EPA Links for the Manitowoc-Sheboygan - HUC 04030101:

Impaired (303d) Waters

A listing of impaired waters can be found on the U.S. EPA website at: Grand River


Subwatersheds for Manitowac-Sheboygan Watershed

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Information on other Lake Michigan subwatersheds can be found at:
HUC Watershed Name
04030101 0101 Molash Creek
04030101 0102 Krok Creek-East Twin River
04030101 0103 Jambo Creek
04030101 0104 Tisch Mills Creek-East Twin River
04030101 0105 East Twin River
04030101 0201 Black Creek
04030101 0202 Devils River
04030101 0203 Neshota River
04030101 0204 Francis Creek-West Twin River
04030101 0205 West Twin River
04030101 0301 Headwaters North Branch Manitowac River
04030101 0302 Spring Creek
04030101 0303 North Branch Manitowac River
04030101 0401 Headwaters South Branch Manitowac River
04030101 0402 Stony Brook-South Branch Manitowac River
04030101 0403 Pine Creek
04030101 0404 City of Chilton-South Manitowac River
04030101 0405 Cedar Creek
04030101 0406 Headwaters Killsnake River
04030101 0407 Killsnake River
04030101 0408 South Branch Manitowac River
04030101 0501 Upper Branch River
04030101 0502 Middle Branch River
04030101 0503 Lower Branch River
04030101 0601 Village of Reedsville-Mud Creek
04030101 0602 Village of St. Nazianz-Mud Creek
04030101 0603 Cato Falls-Manitowac River
04030101 0604 Little Manitowac River-Frontal Lake Michigan
04030101 0605 Manitowac River
04030101 0701 Silver Creek
04030101 0702 Pine Creek-Frontal Lake Michigan
04030101 0703 Point Creek
04030101 0704 Centerville Creek-Frontal Lake Michigan
04030101 0705 Sevenmile Creek – Frontal Lake Michigan
04030101 0801 Meeme River
04030101 0802 Upper Pigeon Creek
04030101 0803 Middle Pigeon Creek
04030101 0804 Lower Pigeon Creek
04030101 0901 Upper Mullet River
04030101 0902 Middle Mullet River
04030101 0903 Lower Mullet River
04030101 1001 Upper Onion River
04030101 1002 City of Belgium
04030101 1003 Middle Onion River
04030101 1004 Lower Onion River
04030101 1101 Community of Mt. Calvary
04030101 1102 Headwaters Sheboygan River
04030101 1103 Feldner’s Creek-Sheboygan River
04030101 1104 Sheboygan Lake-Sheboygan River
04030101 1105 Cedar Lake
04030101 1106 Kiel Marsh State Wildlife Area-Sheboygan River
04030101 1107 Otter Creek-Sheboygan River
04030101 1108 City of Sheboygan Falls-Sheboygan River
04030101 1109 Sheboygan River-Frontal Lake Michigan
04030101 1201 Black River
04030101 1202 Barr Creek-Frontal Lake Michigan
04030101 1203 Sucker Creek-Frontal Lake Michigan
04030101 1204 Sauk Creek