7 minute read

A Watershed Effort


Aerial view of Yahara chain of lakes
Photo courtesy of UW-Madison Water Sustainability and Climate Project

Clean Lakes Alliance is privileged to support local, county, and municipal governments as they work toward healthy lakes and streams.

Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive

This past year’s extreme weather events have demonstrated the complicated and unpredictable variables we face for improving the quality of our lakes. As climate change brings new threats, we are using innovation and persistence to confront the environmental challenges facing our lakes.

This summer, the county’s $1.6 million nutrient concentration system at the Gundersen Health-owned Middleton digester will begin operation. This game-changing treatment technology turns manure into a concentrated nutrient source and creates clean, potable water. The nutrient concentration process reduces phosphorus by nearly 100%, allows for more precise application of nutrients without oversaturating soils, reduces application of nutrients and manure during highrisk runoff periods, and creates an opportunity to transport nutrients to deficient areas and to create value-added products.

At the same time, construction is nearly complete on a new $28 million county landfill gas processing system, designed to not only convert landfill methane gas but also convert farm digester biogas into renewable compressed natural gas. The project will enable the financing and construction of additional manure digesters across Dane County.

Last fall, Dane County completed the first phase of our innovative multi-year effort to rid waterways that flow into our lakes of decades’ old muck. “Suck the Muck” removed 11,000 tons of century old sediment containing 75,000 pounds of phosphorus from the bottom of a 2.7 mile stretch of Dorn Creek between Waunakee and Middleton. Left untouched, the muck will leach algae growing phosphorus into our lakes on a daily basis. This year we will be removing phosphorus rich sediments in Token Creek. In addition to improving the water quality, fish and habitat improvements will restore Token Creek to a once again healthy stream system.

In 2018, we experienced unprecedented rainfall which not only delivers phosphorus to our waters but causes flooding, showing that climate change is happening. To address flooding for the Yahara Lakes, Dane County will begin removing accumulated sediment in the Yahara River like “Suck the Muck” to remove phosphorus sediments and improve river flow. As recent storms have demonstrated, floods can be catastrophic to pollution, homes, and businesses, but as we work together we can build our resilience as a community, protecting and enhancing our valuable resource for generations to come.

Satya Rhodes-Conway, Mayor of Madison

Our lakes are one of Madison’s greatest assets. They shape our geography, but more importantly they shape our culture, economy, and sense of self. They are key to our future and we must not only acknowledge their multi-faceted importance, we must take new approaches to protecting them.

There is no doubt that Madison’s climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, meaning we’ll have more heat waves and ice instead of snow. Precipitation levels are going up, and storms are getting more intense, which paradoxically leaves us more vulnerable to both floods and drought.

Residents of Madison and Dane County will see four subtle, but critically important changes to how their city government approaches its lakes in the coming years:

1. Collaboration: A DNR under the direction of Governor Evers combined with the collaborative relationship I have with County Executive Parisi will give us a new and important opportunity to make advances on water levels throughout the chain of lakes.

2. Focus: Under my administration, every department will conduct a thorough review of operations and infrastructure in light of climate change science, so we can make good decisions about how to prepare.

3. Equity: The lens through which we tackle lake issues will bear in mind our most vulnerable neighbors – especially seniors, kids, low-income households, and people of color.

4. Proactive Action: We will take a new approach to stormwater – one that manages rain where it falls, using green infrastructure.

The future of our lakes is the future of our city. I look forward to working with you to protect, preserve, enhance, and enjoy our wonderful lakes.

Martin Griffin, Yahara WINS

The streams, rivers, and lakes of the Yahara Watershed flow around farm fields, run through urban areas, and provide recreational opportunities for everyone. The Yahara Watershed Improvement Network recognizes that we all play a role in keeping these waters clean.

The Yahara WINS partnership uses an approved adaptive management plan to bring urban, agricultural, and other community partners together to reduce all sources of phosphorus in the Yahara River Watershed over 20 years.

As the partnership enters its third year in 2019, there is much to celebrate. Innovative projects and proven technologies implemented by the partners or funded through Yahara WINS grants are preventing some 40,000 pounds of phosphorus from reaching area surface waters each year. This represents more than 40 percent of the approved total.

Yahara WINS makes innovation affordable and provides expertise to right-size solutions for projects large and small. Let us know how we can work with you: email Martye Griffin, marting@madsewer.org.

Jeff Endres, Yahara Pride Farms

Yahara Pride Farms (YPF) is a farmerled nonprofit organization working to improve soil and water quality. We strive to help advance new ideas and technology that balance water quality improvement with farm sustainability and profitability. Farmers in the Yahara Watershed are working to make improvements despite having another tough financial and weather year on our farms. It’s necessary for YPF to be able to adapt to various economic climates in order to best work with participating farmers. With Clean Lakes Alliance’s help and efforts like the “Conserve an Acre” program, we have focused our efforts on looking to the future of water quality in the Yahara Watershed.

How can we work together with the non-farming public? As farmers, we are working to get things done; we are taking a look at the problems within our unique area and we’re working to address them - this is why we started Yahara Pride in 2012. Since that time, farmers in YPF programs have documented nearly 46,000 pounds of phosphorus that have remained on farm fields and out of rivers and streams by embracing farming practices promoted by the group. Seventy-five percent of Wisconsin’s growth is in Dane County, and we will continue to search for environmental stewardship solutions that balance the area’s rich agriculture heritage with an ever-growing population.

Dr. Jake Vander Zanden, Center for Limnology

UW-Madison is the birthplace of limnology in North America, and the Madison lakes are widely considered to be among the most studied lakes in the world. Much of our basic understanding of how lakes function is based on research conducted by the UW-Madison Center for Limnology.

Since 1995, the Madison lakes have been the site of the Long-Term Ecological Research program, which allows researchers to address research questions that cannot be addressed in a typical research grant cycle. The long-term data collection and the Center for Limnology’s continued research creates a strong scientific understanding of water quality in the lakes, and provides the foundation for ongoing efforts to reduce phosphorus and improve water quality.

Let your 2019 elected officials and city staff know that you support local efforts to protect water quality!


Fitchburg: Aaron Richardson, Mayor

Madison: Satya Rhodes-Conway, Mayor

Middleton: Gurdip Brar, Mayor

 Monona:Mary O’Connor, Mayor

Stoughton: Tim Swadley, Mayor

Sun Prairie: Paul Esser, Mayor


Arlington: Bryan Bjorge, Village Board President

Brooklyn: Brit Springer, Village Board President

Cottage Grove: John Williams, Village Board President

Dane: Roger Schmidt, Village Board President

DeForest: Judd Blan, Village Board President

Maple Bluff: Timothy O’Brien, Village Board President

McFarland: Brad Czebotar, Village Board President

Oregon: Jeanne Carpenter, Village Board President

Shorewood Hills: Dave Benforado, Board of Trustees President

Windsor: Bob Wipperfurth, Village Board President

Waunakee: Chris Zellner, Board of Trustees President


Arlington: George Plenty, Town Board Chair

Blooming Grove: Ron Bristol, Town Board Chair

Bristol: Gerald Derr, Town Board Chair

Burke: Kevin Viney, Town Board Chair

Cottage Grove: Kris Hampton, Town Board Chair

Dane: David Koenig, Town Board Chair

Dunkirk: Norman Monsen, Town Board Chair

Dunn: Ed Minihan, Town Board Chair

Fulton: Evan Sayre, Town Board Chair

Leeds: Mark Frank, Town Board Chair

Middleton: Cynthia Richson, Town Board Chair

Oregon: Wayne L. Ace, Town Board Chair

Pleasant Springs: David Pfeiffer, Town Board Chair

Porter: David Viney, Town Board Chair

Rutland: Peter Loughrin, Town Board Chair

Springfield: Jim Pulvermacher, Town Board Chair

Sun Prairie: Lyle Updike, Town Board Chair

Union: Kendall Schneider, Town Board Chair

Vienna: Jerry Marx, Town Board Chair

Westport: Dean Grosskopf, Town Board Chair