Simulation of hydrodynamics, water quality, and lake sturgeon habitat volumes in Lake St. Croix, Wisconsin and Minnesota, 2013

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5157
Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service
By: , and 



Lake St. Croix is a naturally impounded, riverine lake that makes up the last 40 kilometers of the St. Croix River. Substantial land-use changes during the past 150 years, including increased agriculture and urban development, have reduced Lake St. Croix water-quality and increased nutrient loads delivered to Lake St. Croix. A recent (2012–13) total maximum daily load phosphorus-reduction plan set the goal to reduce total phosphorus loads to Lake St. Croix by 20 percent by 2020 and reduce Lake St. Croix algal bloom frequencies. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the National Park Service, developed a two-dimensional, carbon-based, laterally averaged, hydrodynamic and water-quality model, CE–QUAL–W2, that addresses the interaction between nutrient cycling, primary production, and trophic dynamics to predict responses in the distribution of water temperature, oxygen, and chlorophyll a. Distribution is evaluated in the context of habitat for lake sturgeon, including a combination of temperature and dissolved oxygen conditions termed oxy-thermal habitat.

The Lake St. Croix CE–QUAL–W2 model successfully reproduced temperature and dissolved oxygen in the lake longitudinally (from upstream to downstream), vertically, and temporally over the seasons. The simulated water temperature profiles closely matched the measured water temperature profiles throughout the year, including the prediction of thermocline transition depths (often within 1 meter), the absolute temperature of the thermocline transitions (often within 1.0 degree Celsius), and profiles without a strong thermocline transition. Simulated dissolved oxygen profiles matched the trajectories of the measured dissolved oxygen concentrations at multiple depths over time, and the simulated concentrations matched the depth and slope of the measured concentrations.

Additionally, trends in the measured water-quality data were captured by the model simulation, gaining some potential insights into the underlying mechanisms of critical Lake St. Croix metabolic processes. The CE–QUAL–W2 model tracked nitrate plus nitrite, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus throughout the year. Inflow nutrient contributions (loads), largely dominated by upstream St. Croix River loads, were the most important controls on Lake St. Croix water quality. Close to 60 percent of total phosphorus to the lake was from phosphorus derived from organic matter, and about 89 percent of phosphorus to Lake St. Croix was delivered by St. Croix River inflows. The Lake St. Croix CE–QUAL–W2 model offered potential mechanisms for the effect of external and internal loadings on the biotic response regarding the modeled algal community types of diatoms, green algae, and blue-green algae. The model also suggested the seasonal dominance of blue-green algae in all four pools of the lake.

A sensitivity analysis was completed to test the total maximum daily load phosphorus-reduction scenario responses of total phosphorus and chlorophyll a. The modeling indicates that phosphorus reductions would result in similar Lake St. Croix reduced concentrations, although chlorophyll a concentrations did not decrease in the same proportional amounts as the total phosphorus concentrations had decreased. The smaller than expected reduction in algal growth rates highlighted that although inflow phosphorus loads are important, other constituents also can affect the algal response of the lake, such as changes in light penetration and the breakdown of organic matter releasing nutrients.

The available habitat suitable for lake sturgeon was evaluated using the modeling results to determine the total volume of good-growth habitat, optimal growth habitat, and lethal temperature habitat. Overall, with the calibrated model, the fish habitat volume in general contained a large proportion of good-growth habitat and a sustained period of optimal growth habitat in the summer. Only brief periods of lethal oxy-thermal habitat were present in Lake St. Croix during the model simulation.

Suggested Citation

Smith, E.A., Kiesling, R.L., Ziegeweid, J.R., Elliott, S.M., and Magdalene, Suzanne, 2018, Simulation of hydrodynamics, water quality, and lake sturgeon habitat volumes in Lake St. Croix, Wisconsin and Minnesota, 2013: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5157, 60 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Simulation of Hydrodynamics, Water Quality, and Lake Sturgeon Fish Habitat Volumes in Lake St. Croix
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Simulation of hydrodynamics, water quality, and lake sturgeon habitat volumes in Lake St. Croix, Wisconsin and Minnesota, 2013
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2017-5157
DOI 10.3133/sir20175157
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Minnesota Water Science Center
Description Report: ix, 60 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Minnesota, Wisconsin
Other Geospatial Lake St. Croix
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details