Springs of Wisconsin
Facts about Wisconsin's springs
10,851—The number of known springs in Wisconsin.
The most springs—Grant County, in the unglaciated southwest corner of the state, has the highest concentration of springs in the state with 1.9 springs per square mile.
The fewest springs—Two areas of the state with the lowest concentration of springs are in the glaciated area of the state: the central sand plains region, which was once covered by Glacial Lake Wisconsin, and the Green Bay and Fox River lowlands in east-central Wisconsin, where Glacial Lake Oshkosh once stood.
The largest spring—Cedar Island Ponds near the Boise Brule River in Douglas County, Wisconsin, discharges approximately 40 cubic feet of water per second. That translates to 18,000 gallons per minute or 26 million gallons per day. Water flowing from this spring would fill an olympic-sized swimming pool in under 40 minutes.
Why do we care about springs?
Springs are a critical natural resource, supplying water for streams and wetlands. In addition to lending scenic beauty to state and county parks, the habitats created by springs often harbor endangered and threatened species, such as the Hine's emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), which are dependent on the flow of spring water for survival. Springs provide the cool, oxygen-rich water necessary for trout survival. For researchers, springs also provide windows to the groundwater: they are important points of groundwater discharge, sources for chemical analysis, and places to directly measure groundwater elevation.
Human activities often threaten springs. Lowering of groundwater levels through high-capacity well pumping has dried up many springs in Wisconsin. Springs are also being lost during the construction of new roads, quarries, and housing developments.
More information about springs
The above information was adapted from Jacob A. Macholl's Inventory of Wisconsin's springs (Open-File Report 2007-03). This report is available on CD-ROM and contains shapefiles, a database of springs, and the report in PDF format.
In 2013 Sue Swanson prepared an overview of Wisconsin's spring resources. This Geoscience Wisconsin article describes the two statewide inventories that have been conducted. It also summarizes the geologic and geomorphic context, the habitats they create and support, their influence on Wisconsin culture over time, and the policies that affect their management and use. An interesting read for anyone looking for an in-depth discussion of springs.
For a technical review of the vulnerability of springs, see Assessing the vulnerability of spring systems to groundwater withdrawals in southern Wisconsin, our Geoscience Wisconsin article written by Sue Swanson, Ken Bradbury, and Dave Hart.
For a summary of the habitat requirements of the Hine's emerald dragonfly, see Delineation of areas contributing groundwater to springs and wetlands supporting the Hine's emerald dragonfly, Door County, Wisconsin (Open-File Report 2008-04) by Michael Cobb and Ken Bradbury.
Water boiling up from the spring in the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Dane County, Wisconsin.
Updated March 6, 2014