Lake Water Quality Monitoring

Water Quality Monitoring

IMG_8673Clean Lakes Alliance’s citizen monitoring program officially launched its fifth year in 2017. In a few short years, our program has grown tremendously. No other organization monitors so many sites on the Yahara chain of lakes. More than 70 near-shore areas on all five Madison-area lakes are monitored by trained citizen scientists.

These volunteers gather data on water clarity and temperature, make visual observations on beach conditions, and identify potentially harmful blue-green algal blooms. Moreover, this information is made readily available to the public in real-time at By visiting this easy-to-use mobile-ready website, you can see which beach or lake access point is closest, and which have the best conditions both currently and over time.

Clean Lakes Alliance citizen monitors also take weekly measurements of Secchi depth (a way of measuring water clarity), and water temperature and dissolved oxygen profiles at the deep points of all five lakes. This complements similar monitoring done by organizations like WDNR’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Network and the Long-Term Ecological Research Network, and will allow us to compare water clarity in the middle of the lake with clarity closer to shore.

For an overview of the program, check out the 2016 Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Pilot Manual, or watch the Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Training video. Volunteer observations also allow us to put out the Weekend Lake Report during the summer with an update on the latest conditions. You can also see the 2017 Citizen Monitoring Results.

Bentz_MendotaOff-shore_6-8_3Call for Volunteers

Are you ready to take action on behalf of our lakes?  Ever wonder about water quality conditions and trends off your own pier or at your favorite beach?  If yes, don’t pass up this opportunity!  A limited number of openings are available for those who want to join this popular and highly successful near-shore monitoring program. You will:

  • Take on the role of a lake scientist
  • Measure real-time, near-shore water quality conditions
  • Help researchers better understand how algal blooms develop and migrate around the lake

The time commitment is small but the value of the information to be collected will be huge.  If you are interested in becoming a water quality monitoring volunteer, please contact our watershed coordinator, Katie Nicholas, at (608) 255-1000 or

We are currently looking for volunteer monitors at:

  • Lake Mendota County Park in Middleton
  • Marshall Park in Madison
  • Wingra Park in Madison
  • Frost Woods Beach in Monona

As a Lake Forecasting Steward, you’ll cover equipment costs and learn how to test water clarity, identify algae blooms, and more!

Thank You!

We would like to specially thank our volunteers and partners for their continued efforts.


City of Madison; Dane County; MIOsoft; Public Health – Madison & Dane County; UW-Madison Center for Limnology; UW-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center; UW-Madison Morgridge Center; Long Term Ecological Research; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource; Brittingham Boats

2017 Lake Forecasting Stewards:

A special thanks to the donors who were Lake Forecasting Stewards in 2017! Through your support, we are able to cover equipment costs to help support and expand the program. Become a Lake Forecasting Steward today.

Tom & Mary Anne Smith

Jerry Jendrisak

Woody Kneppreth

Kim Sprecher

Mark Jung

Allen Arntsen

Robert & Jenifer Gilbert

Kathleen Brussock

Jill Storms Ball

John Tye


Carol & Mel McCartney

Jan & Michael Van Vleck

George & Susan Benton

Connie Hagen & Bill Lamm











IMG_0382We believe citizen monitoring is a great way to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges facing our lakes, while creating meaningful data to be used for research and advocacy. Clean Lakes Alliance’s citizen monitoring program was designed under the leadership of Friends of Clean Lakes Board member Jon Standridge, a retired water research scientist who was formerly with the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene and Clean Lakes Alliance Committee on Strategic Implementation member, Dick Lathrop, a retired research limnologist with WDNR and research scientist for the Center For Limnology.

The first program pilot launched during the summer of 2013. Clean Lakes Alliance staff adopted the beach at James Madison Park and conducted regular monitoring throughout the summer for beach conditions, water clarity, phosphorus, and E. coli bacteria. In addition, 9 volunteers spread across the Yahara lakes tested the waters in the near-shore environment from their dock or local lake access point.

After one more pilot year, the full-scale program launched in 2015. Over the course of the summer, 1,258 sampling events took place at 58 sites. Volunteers contributed 463 hours to monitoring the health of our lakes. With the official launch of, all of the volunteer-collected data became visible to the public in real-time. By the end of the summer, had logged nearly 50,000 page views. Clean Lakes Alliance staff tested for E. coli bacteria at local beaches, visiting six targeted beaches on a weekly basis between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and sampling 24 beaches after two rain storms. The results emphasized the importance of increased sampling frequency at public beaches and the potential for contamination after heavy rain. See the 2015 Citizen Monitoring Presentation (Yahara Lakes 101) for full results.

In 2016, we expanded the program to include offshore sites to help bolster monitoring frequency at the deep hole of each of our lakes. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, 72 nearshore and 7 offshore sites were monitored, 1,720 samples were collected, and volunteers contributed 610 hours to monitoring lake health. Increased nearshore water clarity results were observed on lakes Mendota (11 cm) and Monona (6 cm) in comparison to 2014 and 2015. Fewer blue-green algae blooms were observed than in 2015. View our 2016 Yahara Lakes Water Quality Monitoring Presentation (Yahara Lakes 101) and 2016 monitoring summary for results.

To learn more, contact our Watershed Coordinator, Katie Nicholas, at