Lake Waubesa

About Lake Waubesa

Lake Waubesa is the third in the Yahara chain of lakes as the Yahara River flows south from Lake Monona through Upper Mud Lake. The watershed has a mix of urban and rural land use. Work in the Mendota and Monona watersheds to prevent phosphorus runoff is helping Lake Waubesa since much of the phosphorus in the lake comes from upstream.

The north end of Lake Waubesa is surrounded by the Capital Spring State Recreation Area and features the new Lower Yahara River Trail and bike-pedestrian bridge. The south end of the lake receives spring water from Swan Creek, Murphy Creek and Bogholt Deep Spring, which buffers the high-quality Waubesa Wetlands from nutrient runoff. The outlet of the Yahara River sits at the east shore of the lake and runs south towards Lower Mud Lake before joining Lake Kegonsa. Goodland County Park on the western shore of the lake contains the only public beach on Lake Waubesa.

Most of the phosphorus entering the lake each year comes from the upper lakes via the Yahara River, although summer phosphorus levels may also be driven by runoff within the watershed (McDonald & Lathrop, 2016). Phosphorus reduction in the Lake Waubesa watershed will come primarily from improving agricultural practices and improving control of construction erosion.

Lake Waubesa by the numbers

Lake WaubesaLake Waubesa is a shallow lake, and water flushes through the lake relatively quickly (three months) compared to the deeper lakes.

  • Watershed area: 28,160 acres
  • Surface area: 2,080 acres
  • Shoreline: 9 miles
  • Maximum depth: 34 feet
  • Mean depth: 16 feet
  • Flushing rate: 3 months

Water clarity

  • 3.3 feet or “good” according to Department of Natural Resources criteria for shallow lakes (2017)


  • Open 79% of the time and closed 21% of the time (2017)
  • 21 closures days due to E.coli bacteria (2017)
  • No closures due to blue-green algae (2017)

The Lake Waubesa beach at Goodland County Park was closed 21 times (out of a total 99 possible beach days), all due to high E. coli bacteria.

Phosphorus levels

  • 0.087 mg/L or “fair” according to Department of Natural Resources criteria for shallow lakes (2017)

For an update on phosphorus reduction projects, see the State of the Lakes Annual Report.

Organizations supporting Lake Waubesa

The following groups work on water quality issues in the Lake Waubesa watershed. Consider contacting an organization near you to get involved and let us know if we have missed your group.

City of Fitchburg
Dane County
Lake Waubesa Conservation Association
Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area
Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District
Public Health Madison & Dane County
Yahara Pride Farms
Yahara Watershed Improvement Network