Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive


Clean lakes breakthrough

Dane County has embarked on an innovative effort to clean up our lakes that is the first of its kind in Wisconsin and possibly the nation. This breakthrough will result in clean lakes decades sooner.

My 2017 budget will speed up our lakes clean up effort by removing the sludge from the streams that feed into our lakes. The $12 million, multiyear budget initiative will eliminate 870,000 pounds of algae-growing phosphorus.

Two years ago, I put $60,000 in the county budget to analyze the water quality and phosphorus content of the miles of streams and creeks that feed into Lake Mendota. A year of research later, the findings are stark: if we don’t remove accrued sludge that sits at the bottom of these streams, it will take 99 years to see a 50 percent reduction in phosphorus that finds its way into our lakes. Even more concerning, the roadmap to cleaning our lakes completed a couple of years ago (Yahara CLEAN) suggests it will cost $78 million to achieve that 50 percent reduction.

No one wants to wait 100 years for clean lakes.

Our community has long cited that 50 percent reduction as the goal in our lake cleanup effort. We can’t accomplish it in this lifetime without getting into these waterways and removing the continuous source of phosphorus that seeps daily into our waters. Spending $78 million and having to wait 99 years to see the benefits of those investments isn’t the answer.

Testing shows the phosphorus concentration in this stream sediment is seven times more potent than what’s found on crop fields in the Mendota watershed. There are more than 5,600 acres in the watershed. County staff and farmers have implemented conservation and runoff reduction practices on 90 percent of those lands. Soil testing shows farmlands in the watershed are on average already two times better than the state standards on phosphorus concentration.

This data says what’s been done to date has worked at reducing what nutrients go on the land, when they’re applied and, most importantly, keeping them there. We’re making progress. We can’t accomplish our goal without getting at what’s already in the water.