Today looks like it’ll be about as high as it goes and the reports we’ve heard back were all positive. Water levels at most points upstream are receding and with the dry forecast we should be out of the woods. Water level outlook above Portage in particular has been cut in half with a further reduction coming out of Castle Rock. It’s still rough going for those downstream of Lone Rock/Gotham area but above that there are plenty of sandbars (i.e. us). Anything in the Prairie Du Sac to Lone Rock corridor (including Sauk City, Mazomanie, Arena, and Spring Green) won’t have any issues with flooding on the Wisconsin River.
Today and beyond
Less than 2″ of rain fell last night. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, only that it could have been worse. We did see the dam at Prairie Du Sac come up 2kcfs which wasn’t unexpected and I believe it’s now leveled off around 12kfs. To put that number in perspective, 15kcfs is where we start cancelling trips. [kCFS = Thousand Cubic Feet per Second of water, 1 CFS = 7.5 Gallons per second]
It’s always hard to know what exactly is going to happen with local rainfall. We have access to river gauges at Muscoda below us and Prairie Du Sac, Portage, and Wisconsin Dells above us plus a few other spots on larger tributaries (Baraboo, Lemonweir, Black Earth) but because the rains happen so close it doesn’t really have a chance to show up in the gauges at or above the Dells. That means our usual 2+ day notice on river levels gets fuzzy and I have to start doing mental math. For example, our current 4 day outlook is great. The most important dam at Castle Rock has been holding steady all week at ~5kcfs. That gives us enough room for 10kcfs more water between Castle Rock and Spring Green. Following down the river at Wisconsin Dells we’ve also been holding steady around 7kcfs which makes sense given the Lemonweir dumps into the Wisconsin above this gauge and adds just over 1kcfs plus the smaller streams and creeks. Coming another 12 hours downstream we hit Portage. There aren’t any major tributaries between the Dells and Portage so I’d expect to see very similar numbers – in fact right now they are separated by .2kcfs.
This is where it gets fuzzy. We’ve still got ~8kcfs of room to work with. The Baraboo River comes in below Portage and has a fairly large drainage area. This is also where we’re getting into all of the recent rainfall. The gauge near where the Baraboo drops into the Wisconsin is currently ~3.5kcfs. This will likely go up to 4 or 4.5kcfs but that’s still a long way from our 8kcfs of capacity. Now we come another 12 hours downstream to the Prairie Du Sac dam. This is where our longest overnight trips start and is just over 12 hours upstream of where all trips finish.
As mentioned above, the dam at Prairie Du Sac is now running at 12kcfs (5kcfs above Portage) which includes most of that 3.5k from the Baraboo River as well as the runoff from the immediate area that you’ll see immediately following a rainstorm. I expect the contributions from the smaller tributaries to fall off very quickly – the gauge at Black Earth creek is a good proxy for this given it’s close proximity to the river. Looking at Wednesday’s massive storm, the creek went from 60 to 600cfs in less than 12 hours. Less than a day later it was almost back to 100cfs. The Baraboo is going to move slower both going up and coming down but for the most part, I believe that will be a pretty close match with the small tributaries falling off in time with the rise in the Baraboo. All of this makes me pretty confident our 3kcfs of remaining capacity is enough to ensure we won’t have any issues losing sandbars tonight.
Going forward it gets a little more difficult. There’s a chance that all of the small local streams combined with the Baraboo River could continue rising up to that 15kcfs cap on Monday or Tuesday. I’m still waiting to see the latest prediction out of the Portage gauge later this morning, and especially this evening, to see where the real professionals believe the river will crest. There’s just too much variability to make any kind of prediction for midweek. That said, my feeling is that we’ll be okay if the amount kicking out of Castle Rock holds steady (and I think it will based on their lack of rainfall).
This is why people come here. The sandbars are big, the river is wide, and you’re free to set up camp anywhere that looks good. The river has been protected from development so long that it looks much the same now as it did a hundred years ago. This is legit backcountry camping – no site numbers, no permits, no picnic tables, no nothing. Whether you’re planning the first trip or the fiftieth, our canoe camping page has all of the information you’ll need.
Just want to come out and paddle a canoe or kayak for the day? We can do that. Bring your friends or family out for a leisurely day of sandbar hopping while maintaining the option to sleep in a real bed afterwards. Arena to Spring Green is our regular day trip section and for good reason – it has the highest concentration of sandbars on the river. Even on the busiest weekends, there is plenty of distance between you and anyone else on the water.
All of us at Wisconsin Canoe have dumped our collective river knowledge onto the pages of our trip planning section. If you have a question about what to do in a storm, the best way to set up the kitchen, how to find the ideal sandbar, or any of a million other things, the answer can be found here. Probably. You’ll be able to get hourly river condition updates, forecasts, packing lists, food lists, tips, tricks, and everything else you might want to know.
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Given his degree in Economics from UW-Madison, it was inevitable that Ryan would be put to use on the business side of the canoe operation. Doing fancy things with spreadsheets is a secret passion for someone that is more often found miles from civilization.
Norah is our first solution to the annual staffing shortage. While she’s got a steep learning curve ahead of her, she’s already shown progress grabbing canoe paddles and assisting Amy with check-in at the landing.
Baking extraordinaire, cancer survivor, and the nicest person you will ever meet. In between collecting life jackets and greeting customers, Amy finished her degree in Rehabilitation Psychology at UW-Madison. More importantly, she has the uncanny ability to put up with Ryan for years on end.