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Wetlands and the Yahara Watershed

Wetlands and the Yahara Watershed

From Cherokee Marsh north of Lake Mendota to the Waubesa Wetlands on the southwest shore of Lake Waubesa, wetlands can be found throughout the Yahara Watershed. In preparation for Dr. Cal DeWitt’s upcoming presentation, “Waubesa Wetlands: A New Look at an Old Gem,” we’ve prepared an overview of wetlands in the Yahara Watershed.

What are wetlands?

Wetlands are unique ecosystems typically found along lakes, rivers, streams, and other places where land and water meet. They come in many different forms, but have three common traits: water contained above or just below the ground for at least part of the year, specific soils that developed under wet conditions, and distinct plants that grow in wet environments.

Why are wetlands important?

Wetlands are an integral part of the Yahara Watershed and benefit our community in many ways. They prevent flooding, protect shorelines from erosion, recharge groundwater, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. In addition, wetlands are important sites for education and recreation.

There is a direct connection between wetlands and lake water quality improvement. Wetlands act as natural filters that trap and remove potentially harmful materials before they end up in our lakes. Their unique plants and soils filter and store pollutants, excess nutrients, and sediment. As a result, our lakes are cleaner and healthier.

Wetlands you might know

  • Cherokee Marsh – located upstream from Lake Mendota along the Yahara River, it is the largest wetland in Dane County with over 2,000 acres
  • Waubesa Wetlands – bordering the southwest shore of Lake Waubesa, it is one of the highest quality and most diverse wetlands remaining in southern Wisconsin
  • Pheasant Branch Marsh – located near the northwest corner of Lake Mendota, this area is crucial to groundwater quality, as more than 2.6 million gallons flow through its two springs each day

Wetland loss

Unfortunately, many wetlands have been lost due to development and those still remaining are often degraded. When this happens, wetlands lose their ability to provide key services like water filtration. This ultimately leads to a decrease in water quality. Because healthy wetlands lead to healthy lakes, protecting and restoring wetlands benefits our local ecosystems and the entire community.

Wetlands Loss in Yahara River Watershed

Source: UW-Madison Water Sustainability and Climate Project, https://wsc.limnology.wisc.edu/node/106

Quick facts

  • Prior to the Euro-American settlement, the Yahara Watershed included more than 45,000 acres of wetlands.
  • Today, there are 23,090 acres of wetlands – about half of the original coverage.
  • The Yahara Watershed includes some of the most diverse wetland complexes remaining in southern Wisconsin.

To learn more, visit the Wisconsin DNR wetlands page or read the Dane County Wetland Resource Management Guide.

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