Springs are places on the land surface where groundwater naturally emerges from underground and becomes surface water. Springs can vary widely in size, ranging from tiny trickles after it rains to continuous, year-round flows that form large pools.

Understanding springs in Wisconsin is important because they contribute water to streams, lakes, and wetlands throughout the state. The pools and channels that form near springs also create habitat for wildlife, including endangered and threatened species.

Underwater video shows groundwater boiling up across the bed of a spring pool at Cadiz Springs State Recreation Area in Browntown, Wisconsin. (More videos below.)

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.

An inventory of springs in Wisconsin

Map of Wisconsin with dots showing locations of over 400 surveyed springs. The majority of the dots are in southern, central, and western Wisconsin, with some dots scattered across northern Wisconsin and Door County.
Locations of the springs WGNHS surveyed for this inventory.

In 2017, the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey completed an inventory of springs in Wisconsin. The map shows the locations of the springs that we surveyed—more than 400 total.

The inventory includes all known springs in Wisconsin that discharge approximately 110 gallons per minute and higher. These are large springs, capable of filling roughly two bathtubs in under a minute.

For each spring, we documented:

  • spring type
  • flow rate
  • basic water quality (pH, temperature, electrical conductivity)
  • ecological integrity (noting presence of invasive plants, recreation, roads, livestock, agriculture, and other disturbances)
  • geomorphic and geologic descriptions (spring dimensions, surface type, substrate composition, and bedrock type)
Screenshot of our Springs in Wisconsin story map. Image links to the story map.
View our Springs in Wisconsin story map.

This comprehensive database strengthens our understanding of spring hydrology and the vulnerability of Wisconsin’s springs to changes in land use and climate.

Explore the data we gathered in our springs inventory—including detailed descriptions, photos, and data visualizations for 415 springs—in our interactive story map, Springs in Wisconsin. For project methodology and results, see our 2019 report, An Inventory of Springs in Wisconsin. For a more detailed description of the field methods and data management procedures we used during this project, see our companion report, Methods and Best Practices for Surveying Springs in Wisconsin, also published in 2019.

Explore our Springs in Wisconsin story map

Descriptions of each spring are also available on the Wisconsin Water Quantity Data Viewer, an interactive map application hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The most common types of springs found in Wisconsin

Two small pools of water surrounded by green plants. The water is very clear, easily showing the sandy bottoms of the pools, and a small disturbance in the sand is visible where the spring emerges from the ground.
Spring emerges into a stream or pool of water with a sandy bottom.
An outcrop of fractured rocks shaped like a small amphitheater. Clear spring water flows from the outcrop's base, forming a small pool with a rocky bottom.
Spring emerges from a fracture in a rock exposure.
A small cave opening on a wooded hillside. A fast-flowing stream of water emerges from the cave and pours downhill over the rocks.
Spring emerges from a cave.
A spring pool its banks lined with rocks immediately next to a small stone building in a farm setting. The building has a window, a whitewashed roof, and a doorway that opens directly into the spring pool. There's a gap under the doorway where spring water flows into the pool from inside the building.
Spring emerges into a structure, such as a spring house like this, or into the remains of a structure.

More examples of springs in action

Organic debris bubbles up from a spring outlet, creating this otherworldly scene. Water from this spring feeds a creek that flows across The Nature Conservancy’s Pickerel Lake Fen in Walworth County, Wisconsin.

Pieces of organic material boil up like confetti above a spring opening near the headwaters of the Pine River in Waushara County, Wisconsin.