Bad River watershed assessments

Science Center Objects

The Bad River has one of the highest sediment loads of all Lake Superior tributaries and is an important resource for lake sturgeon and the Bad River Tribe. This study monitors the effects of streamflow variability on sediment-related problems, including understanding the influence of land cover on hydrology, habitat, erosion and sedimentation rates, and water quality of the Bad River.


A historical perspective of changes in the sediment, water quality, and hydrologic conditions of the Bad River watershed is needed for environmental management of the Bad River Tribe’s water resources. Previous sediment load studies conducted by the USGS identified the Bad River as having the highest sediment load of all tributaries to Lake Superior. A large, highly valued coastal wetland complex in the Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs exists at the mouth of the river and is threatened by excessive sediment. More study is needed of nutrient loadings and potential mining impacts. The Bad River is one of a handful of rivers that has naturally reproducing lake sturgeon.



Photograph of Faith Fitzpatrick, USGS, describing overbank deposits along the Bad River

Faith Fitzpatrick, USGS, pointing toward post-Euro-American settlement sandy alluvium in overbank deposits along the Bad River about 2 kilometers upstream of its mouth at Lake Superior (location is yellow circle on right).

The objectives of the studies included in this project are varied, but have a central thread of long-term monitoring of the effects of floods and streamflow variability on sediment-related nonpoint source problems. The main objectives of this study are to understand the historical and modern influences of land cover on hydrology, habitat, erosion/sedimentation rates, and water quality of the Bad River and its key tributaries.



All aspects of the approach are coordinated and assisted by scientists, managers, and technicians in the Bad River Tribe Natural Resources Department. The approach began with a GIS analysis of the watershed and identification of erosion and sedimentation hotspots. Valley cross sections were surveyed and floodplain stratigraphy was used to establish historical overbank sedimentation rates. Geomorphic reference sites were established along the Bad River and key tributaries for monitoring channel changes and bank erosion. Cross sections were revisited approximately every five years. Streambed sediment samples have been collected for trace elements and inorganic chemicals from streams upstream and downstream of potential mining locations starting in 2006. Suspended sediment and bedload, and water samples for trace elements have been collected occasionally at the continuous streamflow gaging station on the Bad River near Odanah. On Bear Trap Creek, nutrient and sediment loads are being monitored by the Tribe and USGS associated with potential agricultural runoff contributions to Kakagon Slough.

Photograph of Faith Fitzpatrick discussing soil cores and findings with staff from the Bad River Tribe's Natural Resources Dept.

Faith Fitzpatrick, USGS, discussing soil cores and findings with staff from the Bad River Tribe's Natural Resources Department.



In 2016, plans include writing a report on the channel cross section and bank erosion monitoring and a fact sheet on methods used to conduct a baseline survey of sediment geochemistry and water quality related to the Bad River plume in Lake Superior. Water quality sampling and streamflow measurement continues at five sites as part of a baseline survey of the watershed upstream and downstream of the area where mining activity has been proposed.