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There’s More to Lake Levels

Flooded pier on Lake Mendota

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.

Flooding at James Madison Park - 2018

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.

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