Clean Lakes Alliance’s Statement to Dane County Lake Level Task Force
This statement was presented by Clean Lakes Alliance Executive Director James Tye to the Dane County Lake Level Task Force on March 5, 2019.
Clean Lakes Alliance applauds the leadership of the Dane County Board and Dane County Executive in putting $12 million toward flood recovery and lake improvement projects in the 2019 budget, and in creating the Technical Work Group and this task force to address recent flooding around the Yahara Chain of Lakes. We believe these initiatives help move us toward becoming a more resilient community.
But we need to work together as a community to address the increasing volume of water and runoff BEFORE it enters our lakes and waterways. In addition to last summer’s flooding, we experienced heavy rain and high phosphorus loading during late winter and early spring, then massive cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms and extensive beach closures. One intense bloom extended across much of Lake Mendota and persisted for three days in late June (June 27th – June 29th).
With the amount of developed area in the watershed nearly doubling since 1970 (41,000 to 75,000 acres), and greater amounts of precipitation and intense storm events accounting for about 50% of observed increases in Yahara River flows (according to Dane County), there is a growing need for more holistic, landscape-based solutions. These are solutions that prioritize infiltration and reducing runoff, and that address the sources and root causes of these problems.
Investing in urban projects like retention basins, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and other green infrastructure will be of critical importance. In rural areas, we support the new Dane County Conservation Reserve Program that converts lands at greater risk of runoff to prairies and grasses. We also support conservation acquisitions, especially in the upper reaches of the watershed.
Clean Lakes Alliance is also on record as supporting the recommendations of the Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee of the Dane County Lakes & Watershed Commission and the Capitol Area Regional Planning Commission. These recommendations include the need to increase infiltration as part of new and redevelopment projects, funding volume control practices in both urban and rural areas, and maintaining internally drained basins in the watershed. Given that seven of the eleven record summer rainfalls in our region have occurred since 2000, this need will only grow.
As this task force considers policy changes to address flood risks, we want to express our support for the work of the technical work group in layout out options for the short term, such as strategies for improving water flow through the system. But we also want to encourage the county to address the longer-term need to address increasing runoff volumes in a way that reduces both the risk of floods AND improves water quality.
Thank you for the important work you are doing on this task force and for all you are doing for our lakes.
Flooding and historically large cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms last summer are symptoms of a changing climate and a harder, less resilient landscape. To address these challenges, Clean Lakes Alliance has expanded our advocacy efforts at both the municipal and county levels to address flooding and slow down runoff.
About the author: My name is Karin Swanson and I am a student of the Yahara Watershed Academy. I work for Clean Lakes Alliance as the Marketing and Communications Associate Manager and I am a meteorologist. I will bring you along on my journey through the Academy in an effort to expand our community’s knowledge and passion for the Yahara River Watershed.
The 2019 Yahara Watershed Academy (YWA) began on a very snowy February 12th. Snow started the evening of February 11th, with ten inches accumulating by the time the storm wrapped up early on the 13th. But the snow didn’t stop our group of students from learning about the Yahara River Watershed.
The YWA is made up of five day-long courses once a month, with students graduating in June. The Academy involves a partnership with the UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and Edgewood College. Graduates will have received the knowledge and skills to become a network of informed leaders for our watershed.
Frozen Assets raises more than $1,000,000 net since 2012!
With more than 6,000 visitors joining us at The Edgewater and on Lake Mendota, Frozen Assets raised more than $127,000 net for our lakes this year. THANK YOU to all of our sponsors, guests, volunteers, and event partners who made the festival and fundraiser a huge success!
Thank you to our presenting sponsor Lands’ End and to our platinum sponsor The Edgewater. Lands’ End provides critical funding and apparel to keep our staff and volunteers warm. The Edgewater and its staff were incredible hosts of the festival and fundraiser for the FIFTH year in a row!
Funds raised will be used to purchase easements for three miles of buffer strips, which help capture nutrient-rich runoff from farm fields before it enters our lakes. See some of the other projects we’ve been up to since our founding in 2010.
Keep reading for a recap of the event and respond to our survey below to give us feedback about how we can make next year even better!
Clean Lakes Alliance’s Frozen Assets Festival is ON!
Lake Mendota ice activities moved on land February 1st, 2nd, and 3rd
Madison’s favorite winter festival is moving forward with a full slate of activities scheduled for the first weekend of February at The Edgewater. Warm temperatures and a virtually snowless winter have left Lake Mendota’s ice cover in question for the February Frozen Assets Festival, presented by Lands’ End. But even if the ice is off, the FESTIVAL IS ON!
“Our number one goal every year is safety,” said Clean Lakes Alliance Executive Director James Tye. “We of course always want to be able to use Lake Mendota – our largest ‘frozen asset’ – for our festival, but we have a great partnership with The Edgewater allowing us to hold events even if a changing climate takes away our ice.”
Yahara Lakes Water Quality Monitoring – 2018 Results
From May to September, volunteers at piers and beaches around the five Yahara lakes measured near-shore water clarity, air and water temperature, and noted several visual observations. Visual observations included presence of algal blooms (green/blue-green), floating plant debris, swimmers, waterfowl, wave intensity, and general water appearance. Volunteers were asked to log condition reports at a twice weekly minimum on our website, Lakeforecast.org, where all data are updated in real time.
79 near-shore and 7 offshore monitoring stations on all five Yahara lakes (Figure 1)
Weekly off-shore measurement of Secchi depth on all five lakes
Measured temperature and dissolved oxygen profiles on all five lakes (seven sites total)
Weekly monitoring continued at all 25 public beaches
44% increase in number of condition reports from 2017 (Table 1)
Collected continuous near-shore temperature measurements at 17 sites on lakes Mendota, Monona, and Waubesa, and Kegonsa
Implemented E. coli sampling and cyanobacteria toxin testing pilots
Averaged 2.3 condition reports per site each week across all sites
Continued weekly Weekend Lake Reports with over 77,000 views on social media
Despite warm weather in Madison over the weekend, cool nights, light winds, and cold water helped Lake Mendota officially freeze on Saturday, December 15th. Lake Mendota, the largest lake in the Yahara Watershed, froze eight days after the smallest lake in the watershed, Lake Wingra, which officially froze on December 7th. Lake Monona officially froze on December 11th.
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 this weekend, staff waited to see whether it would hold out through the warm daytime temperatures. The December 15th freeze date is 12 days ahead of last year’s December 27th freeze date, and a surprising five days ahead of the December 20th median freeze date. The latest freeze date for Lake Mendota was January 30th – which happened in the winter of 1932.
The Wisconsin State Climatology Office makes the official determination as to whether the lake is frozen. The climatologists use the same guidelines they have used for decades to determine whether the lakes are iced over. This allows for a continuity in data collection. Read more: Determining ice cover on Madison’s lakes.