The La Crosse County Department of Land Conservation is collaborating with landowners and other organizations on an ambitious plan to improve the Bostwick Creek watershed.
La Crosse County has been awarded a $600,000 grant for a multi-year project to improve the Bostwick Creek watershed, which is located about five miles east of the City of La Crosse.
The stream supports an abundant wild trout fishery, particularly in its headwaters, but further downstream Bostwick has been designated as a “303(d) impaired waterbody” for excessive phosphorus levels by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
La Crosse County Department of Land Conservation (DLC) identified Bostwick as a prime location for a watershed improvement project several years ago and began work on a plan to improve water quality in the creek. The plan helped the county secure a competitive Targeted Runoff Management (TRM) grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“Watershed projects start with buy-in from local landowners,” said La Crosse County Conservation Specialist Christina Mulder. “By working with landowners, we can install conservation practices that reduces erosion and improves water quality.”
Goals for 2021 include designing and installing one streambank stabilization project, four grade stabilization structures, and planting 100 acres of cover crops. These projects all combat erosion, helping to preserve farmland and reduce the amount of runoff that enters the stream. Town hall meetings to discuss the project with landowners and continued water quality sampling will also be conducted throughout the project. The project will run for a minimum of three years. The DLC hopes that if the Bostwick plan is successful, it can help the county in applications for future grants to improve La Crosse County waters.
On a recent tour of the upper reaches of the creek, Mulder assessed stream banks, looking for areas suitable for stabilization work. By lowering steep banks and allowing a stream to meander as naturally as possible, conservation projects help to reconnect rivers to their floodplain. This can reduce damage from major flood events, which are becoming more common locally, by slowing and distributing floodwater.
The work aims to improve water quality throughout the length of Bostwick Creek, which flows through the town of Barre before entering the La Crosse River. Elevated phosphorus levels from runoff into the Mississippi River system in the Midwest impacts water quality all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Dead zones have developed in the Gulf, partly due to phosphorus pollution that originates in the Midwest. Projects like La Crosse County’s efforts on Bostwick Creek, help to lessen that pollution, albeit on a small scale.
La Crosse County will partner with the Wisconsin DNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, area municipalities, and local farmers on the project. Trout Unlimited will work with the county to install in-stream structures to promote fish habitat.
Some of the small tributaries that enter Bostwick support naturally reproducing brook trout, which are native to Wisconsin, although brown trout dominate the watershed. Trout depend on cold, clean water to thrive, which is why the spring-fed water of Bostwick provides excellent habitat for the fish.
Jacob Schweitzer, a La Crosse County Conservation Specialist also working on the project, noted that Bostwick Creek is already an excellent trout fishery. He hopes this project will bring attention to a rich resource La Crosse residents have on their doorstep.
“This project aims to improve and maintain what is already outstanding water resource,” Schweitzer said. “But more importantly, it will improve the watershed in ways that benefit the entire ecosystem.”
Trout fishing is a major draw for visitors to the Driftless Region, generating a significant economic impact. The Driftless includes parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa and is known for its spring-fed streams.
Learn more about the La Crosse County Department of Land Conservation at lacrossecounty.org/landcon.