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Message from the Alliance


It is difficult to look back on 2018 without a heavy heart. Above average rain in February, followed by the wettest growing season since 1996, and record flooding in August caused high concentrations of algae-causing phosphorus to wash into our lakes. To make matters worse, the August floods closed every beach, imposed slow-no-wake restrictions on all lakes, and essentially robbed us of an entire month of lake use in Madison. This is not how we want to live and it is not how we want to see our community’s largest assets.

However, in the face of adversity came increased engagement and optimism for the future of the Yahara River Watershed. In this eighth issue of the State of the Lakes Annual Report, you’ll read about the immense challenges of 2018 and the increased effort across our community to improve water quality.

Through projects on farmlands funded by Yahara Watershed Improvement Network (WINS) partners, including Clean Lakes Alliance, Dane County programs like “Suck the Muck” (pg. 12), and other watershed community undertakings, we were able to come together and divert harmful phosphorus from entering our lakes!

To reach our water quality goals, we need to increase projects and engagement and improve policy throughout the watershed. This year we expanded our educational programs and worked to create policy recommendations for the Dane County Board-led Healthy Farms Healthy Lakes Task Force. Through this work, we successfully advocated for more funding and better policy for our lakes.

Perhaps our largest project will be an update and enhancement of Yahara CLEAN (Capital Lakes Environmental Assessment & Needs). The first version, completed in 2010, produced 70 recommendations to rehabilitate water quality.

In 2012, Clean Lakes Alliance formed a partnership with Dane County and the City of Madison to transform these recommendations into a 14-action roadmap. We are now forming a Yahara CLEAN Compact (pg. 24) with our partners to update the roadmap to account for a changing climate and project costs, and meet our current water quality challenges.

2018 saw an increase in Friends of Clean Lakes, Lake Partners, and volunteers. We thank these supporters and invite others to donate to become a Friend of Clean Lakes or join our community’s many businesses and organizations that have donated to become a Lake Partner. All donations support important phosphorus reduction projects, education, and monitoring work. Visit pages 34- 45 to see the long list of people, businesses, and organizations who invest in our lakes.

While many will remember 2018 as one of the worst years for our lakes, we instead look at it as the start of something big. More than ever our community has seen how harmful runoff is, and more than ever people are asking what they can do to help. Now is the time to “join the wave” and make sure 2018 is a footnote and not the accepted norm for Madison’s lakes.

In Partnership,

James Tye, Executive Director
Matthew Frank, Executive Board Chair


Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms appeared in our lakes at an alarming scale, highlighting continued challenges with water quality.

72% of beach closures from Memorial Day to August 20th were due to cyanobacteria blooms.

June continues to be the biggest month for cyanobacteria blooms for the fourth year.

Heavy rain in the Greater Madison area sent more harmful runoff into our lakes and highlighted the need for green infrastructure and increased infiltration.

All beaches were closed an additional 221 beach days after August 20th flooding.

The amount of developed area in the Yahara Watershed has nearly doubled since 1970 (41,000 to 75,000 acres) according to Dane County.

January and February rain contributed heavy loads of phosphorus to the lakes.

Close to twice as many one inch or greater rain events occured compared to the average year.

More than 16 inches of precipitation above normal.