A Christmas cold snap and low wind helped Lake Mendota officially freeze on Wednesday, December 27. Lake Mendota, the largest lake in the Yahara Watershed, froze 17 days after the smallest lake in the watershed, Lake Wingra, which officially froze on December 10.

The Wisconsin State Climatology Office requires ice to hold for a period of 24 hours before a lake can officially be declared frozen over. After ice took shape on December 26, staff waited to see whether it would hold out through the night. The December 27 freeze date is five days ahead of last winter’s January 1 freeze date, and only seven days later than the December 20 median freeze date. The latest freeze date for Lake Mendota was January 30 – which happened in the winter of 1932.

We have a Winner

Clean Lakes Alliance once again held its annual Mendota Freeze Contest, asking people to take a guess as to when the lake would officially freeze. Dawn Hearn of Madison submitted the first correct guess and will receive a $1,000 Lands’ End gift card as a grand prize. Runner up Jon Voichick of Madison was the second person to correctly guess December 27. He will receive an overnight stay at the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.

Stay Safe

Though the lakes look solid, don’t be misled: ice may still be thin. The Wisconsin DNR recommends waiting for three inches of ice before venturing out, and always walking with a friend. If you plan on ice fishing with friends and gear, at least four inches of ice is best.

Be a Part of History

Now that ice has formed on Lake Mendota, Clean Lakes Alliance is busy making sure Frozen Assets, the free, family friendly festival held on February 2, 3, and 4 at The Edgewater, will be a success. NEW this year – a 5K run/walk held entirely on Lake Mendota. Runners or walkers will compete in the ONLY 5K run/walk in the U.S. held entirely on a frozen lake! Sign up here.


Dear Friends,

Another year has come and gone on our lakes. Thank you for being a Friend of Clean Lakes. Today, I have only ONE thing on my holiday wish list – healthy lakes.

DONATE today to support our work.

As 2017 closes, we’re already pulling together phosphorus-reduction and water quality numbers for our State of the Lakes annual report. In the meantime, I’m looking back on a few things that have made ME happy this year.

Seven Things That Make James & The Lakes HAPPY:

1. GRANTS: The most important strength we have in our work for clean lakes is community. We’re proud to share our FIRST-EVER $60,000 community grants program to help fund innovative projects right here in the Yahara Watershed.

2. HEALTHY FARMS: Local farmers and Yahara Pride Farms continue to innovate, seeding cover crops by plane, composting manure, and certifying farms. Partnerships with Dane County and Yahara WINs, to which Clean Lakes Alliance contributes $100,000 annually, will help us do even more on the land to protect our lakes.

3. HEALTHY SHORES: In 2017, we held a record 19 lakeshore cleanup events and 1,675 hours of volunteer service with local businesses. Thank you for choosing to serve our lakes! Learn more and sign up for a 2018 volunteer day – FREE to Lake Partners.

4. BACK TO THE BEACH: Thanks to a $75,000 75th Anniversary Year of Giving grant from the Madison Community Foundation, we’re generating a whole year of excitement around our beaches! The designs for our Reimagining Warner Beach design contest are due January 15th, and a comprehensive inventory of our lakeside parks and beaches will begin to unfold next spring. Learn more.

5. ALL EYES ON OUR LAKES: We can’t make progress if we’re not talking about our lakes. This year, Clean Lakes Alliance has been featured in an impressive 120 news stories, like this one, about water quality. People like you are our ambassadors – keep spreading the word!

6. GOING PLATINUM: Out of 6,000+ non-profit organization in Madison, Clean Lakes Alliance is now one of just 16 groups to achieve GuideStar’s Platinum designation for organizational transparency and accountability. See our profile here.

7. SEVEN YEARS: The idea of a Clean Lakes Alliance was born in the summer of 2010. Seven years later, we have an outstanding team working for our lakes, backed by 124 sponsors, 1,062 volunteers, and 842 friends! Thank you!

In the holiday giving season, please consider making an end-of-year gift to Clean Lakes Alliance. Your donation helps give voice to the cause, and supports the work we do every day to protect and improve our precious lakes.

Make a donation today.

In Partnership,

James Tye
Executive Director
Clean Lakes Alliance

The fourth annual Frozen Assets Festival is coming up and we hope you can join us!

This family-friendly daytime event will be held indoors and outdoors at The Edgewater on Friday, Saturday and Sunday February 2nd, 3rd and 4th. As always, this event will be FREE and open to all.

We’ll have no-cost activities all weekend long, including ice skating, sleigh rides, pond hockey, snowshoeing, ice science and more at the Frozen Assets Festival, plus a competitive Frozen Assets 5K Run/Walk on Lake Mendota and Frozen Assets Fat Bike Race on the ice.

Stay tuned for a full schedule of events, including performances and more fun with the Figure Skating Club of Madison, Madison Capitols, Trinity Irish Dancers, Rutabaga Paddlesports, Madison Bikes, and other community partners.

Once again, Olympic Gold Medalist Casey FitzRandolph will be joining us to demonstrate his medal-winning speedskating technique.

For the second year in a row, the Wisconsin Kiters Club will be flying unique, colorful kites on the lake throughout the weekend.

Frozen Assets highlights the value of our lakes to local quality of life all year round. If you’ve never explored our frozen lakes, now’s the time! There will be FREE hot chocolate and s’mores on the ice.

With the generous support of sponsors and the evening Frozen Assets Fundraiser, this event has raised more than $1 million for our lakes since 2012!

Learn more at

In the fall, there’s one thing you can do when managing leaves that will help our lakes more than anything else – do you know what it is?








On Monday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced an aggressive 2018 budget, with numerous projects aimed at diverting and removing algae-causing phosphorus from lakes in the Yahara Watershed. The multi-million dollar proposed budget calls for continuing to remove legacy sediment from streams feeding into Madison’s lakes, as well as new projects like prairie restorations and a pilot “algae pump” to remove scum from surface water.

“Our mission looks to build a community of people, businesses, organizations, and government agencies dedicated to improving and protecting water quality in the Yahara River watershed,” said Clean Lakes Alliance Executive Director James Tye. “The county executive’s lake projects are a strong step in the right direction towards cleaner and healthier lakes.”

County Executive Parisi’s budget plan states the lakes are not a singular solution away from being algae free. Clean Lakes Alliance continues to support this statement by working towards enacting the Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan for Phosphorus Reduction. Adopted in 2012, this community driven report outlines 14 actions to reduce phosphorus. If fully implemented, it will reduce phosphorus reaching the lakes by 50% annually.

Rake Leaves, Help the Lakes

The county executive’s budget calls on farmers, municipalities, and community organizations to work together towards a common lake goal. One way urban residents in the watershed can help right now is by changing leaf-raking habits. Leaves in city streets act like a tea bag – when rain water passes through them in the street, it takes phosphorus with it into storm sewers, which flow directly to the lakes. If residents raked leaves OUT of the street up onto the terrace curb, runoff would not deliver this phosphorus-rich tea to the lakes.

“About half of the annual phosphorus that reaches the lakes from residential neighborhoods can happen in October and November when leaves are falling,” said Tye. “The more people can keep their curbs clear of leaves, the more they can help the lake,” he added.

To learn more about leaf-free streets, residents can log onto and watch a leaf video.

Clean Lakes Alliance commends County Executive Parisi’s strong leadership towards lake projects, and looks to continue working with Dane County and other community partners to execute these lake-friendly budget programs. The more funding that goes towards the lakes, the more days residents and visitors will be able to experience clean and healthy beaches and water.


Photo by Abigail Becker

Clean Lakes Alliance Director, James Tye, presents in front of the Waunakee Tribune

Last week, Clean Lakes Alliance Director, James Tye and Program Director, Paul Dearlove, presented in front of the The Waunakee Rotary to advocate for lake clean up.

Tye said the lakes are sick. “They don’t meet the standards for fishing, swimming or public health. Each pound of phosphorus that enters the lakes can create 500 pounds of algae,” Tye says.

The good news is the community is willing to invest to improve local lakes.

Click here to read the full article by the Waunakee Tribune. 

What started in 2013 as a handful of Clean Lakes Alliance board members testing the water has now grown into a network of over 70 volunteers doing weekly water quality monitoring on all five lakes.

Each week this summer, our team of monitors gathered data on water clarity and temperature, making visual observations on beach conditions, and identifying potentially harmful blue-green algae blooms. And what a summer it was!

Spotlight on algae blooms

In 2017, Madison saw multiple days where toxic blue-green algae blooms affected large sections of our lakes. Citizen monitors were able to identify these blooms, allowing to report the affected areas. The improved monitoring network helped Clean Lakes Alliance send alerts on social media and by email to keep people in the community aware and safe.

With the increased monitoring around the lakes came increased attention from users – and the media. Throughout the summer Clean Lakes Alliance staff and citizen monitors were featured in news stories related to blue-green algae blooms and other lake related issues. The increased attention helped drive more traffic to, inform more people about lake conditions, and ultimately helped get more people involved in our mission.

We also took a unique approach to sharing lake conditions on social media through Adam’s humorous and information Weekend Lake Reports. These two-minute videos, seen by 2,500 to 7,500 people each week, gave tips on the best spots on the lakes for the weekend. Adam, who is Clean Lakes Alliance’s director of marketing and development, is up for Madison Magazine’s best of Madison social media personality! You can vote for Adam through October 15th, 2017.

Plans for the future

Looking ahead to 2018, we intend to grow our monitoring program to increase monitoring at our beaches, and increase sampling throughout the week. The data collected not only helps lake users, but also will allow scientists to forecast long-range lake conditions.

Madison is a leader in so many respects, and our citizen scientists are helping us lead in providing lake information to the public. The more information we can continue to deliver, the more confidence people will have using our lakes — and the more lake health will be a top priority for everybody.

With 58 miles of lakeshore in our watershed, shoreline maintenance is a big job. We’re lucky to have dedicated staff and community groups working to keep our parks and beaches healthy – but sometimes, there just aren’t enough hands to get the job done. That’s where our summer volunteer groups come in!

A summer to remember

So far this season, there have been 15 Renew the Blue volunteer days, for a total of 457 volunteers and 1,481 hours maintaining our lakeshores over the season. These events serve double duty: our lakeshore parks get some much-needed TLC, and volunteers learn more about keeping our watershed healthy.

Our 2017 season has been full of memorable moments:

  • Spectrum Brands helped paint the boathouse at Marshall Park, which had been vacant for 25 years. We loved sprucing up the NEWEST spot to get out on the lakes – Marshall Boats!
  • Lands’ End once again took the award for largest volunteer group and held tight to its longest-running streak for their fifth year in a row at Lake Farm County Park.
  • Volunteer teams learned how to identify and remove problem plants like garlic mustard, dame’s rocket, honeysuckle, buckthorn, white mulberry, burdock, Virginia creeper vine, hedge parsley, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
  • The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy were able to expand their target restoration areas for the summer thanks also to the work of Spectrum Brands.
  • Fall volunteer groups have collected bags of native prairie seeds destined for Dane County’s new seed processing facility.

yahara watershed academy 2017 education overview

Clean Lakes Alliance sees a future where everybody realizes that the lakes are the center of the community. Education is central to this goal! Read on for a snapshot of this summer’s educational programs.

Yahara Watershed Academy

Who it’s for:

Anyone who wants to incorporate watershed sustainability into their personal or professional life, especially those with the desire to lead.

What happened this year:

23 students graduated with training in watershed science, climate change, and leadership, making promising post-graduation project commitments.

Our favorite moment:

Getting into a boat with Center for Limnology faculty and grad students to explore Lake Mendota – grabbing samples of algae and pulling up zebra mussel encrusted rocks along the way.

Farm Tour

farm-tour 2017 education recap

Who it’s for:

City dwellers and farmers interested in learning about ways local farms are innovating to protect soil and water quality.

What happened this year:

More than 120 people toured the facility at Endres Berryridge Farms turning dairy manure into valuable compost.

Our favorite experience:

Seeing all steps of the process: from the raw manure in the heifer barns, to the long rows of compost being turned next door, to the finished product being spread on a field across the road.

Lake Explorer Camp

lake-explorer-camp 2017 education recap

Who it’s for:

Kids between the ages of 5 and 13.

What happened this summer:

Over eight weeks, 177 kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County got their toes wet at Brittingham Boats with a crew of trained instructors.

Our favorite lesson:

Catching fish or paddling a boat for the first time, and learning about how water travels from rain clouds back into our lakes.

Yahara Lakes 101

yahara-lakes-101 2017 education recap

Who it’s for:

Anyone wanting a primer on timely issues that impact our lakes.

What’s happened so far this year:

We’ve learned about hot topics like zebra mussels, bacterial contamination at beaches, and construction erosion.

Our favorite lesson:

Learning how partners in Milwaukee have used “sewer-sniffing” dogs to get to the bottom of pesky Lake Michigan beach closures.