July 03, 2018
County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan, 608.333.2285
County Board

More Targeted Efforts Needed  to Improve Water Quality


With the Fourth of July holiday and mid-summer outdoor recreation season at hand, many Dane County beaches are closed due to blue-green algae blooms brought on by recent rains and urban and rural runoff into the lakes. 


When beaches are closed, Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) advises residents and their pets to avoid coming into contact with algal blooms which may cause illness for those who accidentally swallow or inhale water containing algae, or have prolonged skin contact with the algae. The blooms can cause symptoms such as stomach upset, rashes, and respiratory irritation. To check for beaches closed as a result of algal blooms, visit the following website:   


“Our lakes are a precious resource, and while Dane County has taken many steps to improve water quality, we clearly must do even more, particularly in the light of more frequent extreme rain events,” said Supervisor Mary Kolar who chairs the County Board’s Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force. 


The Dane County Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force began its work almost  a year ago to assess findings and offer policy recommendations regarding the most effective means of removing phosphorus from surface waters of the Yahara Watershed. The Task Force is expected to make recommendations by the end of the summer.


“The Clean Lakes Alliance, as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the improvement and protection of the lakes, streams and wetlands in the Yahara River watershed, is pleased to be at the table as the Health Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force addresses next steps in water quality improvement,” said James Tye, Executive Director of the Alliance.  “To make lasting change will require sustained, hard work,” he added.


Current efforts to protect water quality includes initiatives addressing both urban and agricultural sources, including, but not limited to:


  • The 2018 Capital Budget continues funding of the Conservation Fund ($2 million), Land & Water Legacy Fund ($3.7 million), Lake Preservation & Renewal fund ($750,000).  This funding allows purchases such as the recent partnership with Groundswell Conservancy for over 100 acres of land that will add to the Cherokee Marsh Natural Resource area. The 2 separate parcels, 95.5 acres in the Village of DeForest and 10.9 acres in the Village of Waunakee, will protect lake quality for Lake Mendota and will connect public ownership making land management of the wetland easier and more efficient.


  • The Land & Water Legacy Fund  includes $760,000 in 2018 to provide matching funds to  municipalities via the Urban Water Quality Grant Program.   The goals of the Urban Water Quality Grant Program are to improve the quality of urban storm water runoff entering Dane County lakes, rivers and streams, increase public awareness of urban water quality issues, and provide public education about urban storm water quality improvement practices. These goals are commonly achieved by the improvement and retrofitting of old storm water outlets that dump untreated urban runoff into the lakes.

Urban Water Quality Grants have helped fund projects totaling almost $10 million that are estimated to have removed more than a half million pounds of debris since that time and more than 2000 pounds of phosphorus annually. One pound of phosphorus removed from the county’s watersheds prevents 500 pounds of algae growth in area lakes.

  •  Dane County also supports adaptive practices on farms in sensitive watersheds.  For example, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, in collaboration with over 30 partners, is pioneering a new approach to reduce phosphorus runoff called Watershed Adaptive Management. In watershed adaptive management, partners work together to implement cost effective practices that reduce phosphorus from all sources. This collaborative effort is called Yahara WINs and is focused in the Yahara River Watershed.


  • To address phosphorus which has built up over time on stream bottoms, Dane County is implementing “Suck The Muck”, a $12 million lakes clean-up project. The initiative will assess and clean up to 33 miles of streams that feed phosphorus directly into the lakes. 


“Dane County residents want to make sure we are making progress to clean up our lakes and ensure we have safe drinking water and clean lakes,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan.  “While we have made considerable efforts to date, we know we must do even more,” she said.  “I look forward to the recommendations of the Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force.”