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
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)
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.
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
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.