Nearly half of the land around Madison’s five big lakes — 28 miles of shoreline, according to the Clean Lakes Alliance — is publicly owned.
So Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa and Kegonsa truly are our lakes, which everyone can use and enjoy.
With ownership also comes responsibility to improve and protect these invaluable water bodies. And Dane County — with help from the state, a local land trust and national conservation association — took two big steps last week toward cleaner lakes.
The county acquired more than 100 acres around Cherokee Marsh north of Lake Mendota, which will help ensure this critical area continues to filter pollution at the head of Madison’s lakes. Cherokee Marsh acts like a sponge, soaking up excess fertilizer into marsh plants and slowly releasing cleaner water to our lakes below. This helps reduce phosphorus in the lakes, which is the nutrient that causes algae blooms and green muck.
Dane County last week announced more than $322,000 in federal, state and county grants to Groundswell Conservancy to buy 96 acres in DeForest and 11 in Waunakee that will become part of the Cherokee Marsh Natural Resource Area. The larger DeForest purchase includes 2,750 feet of frontage along the Yahara River that flows to Lake Mendota.
This adds to the county’s $1.5 million purchase last year of 53 acres and protection of an additional 77 acres in the Cherokee Marsh area.
Besides improving water quality, Cherokee Marsh provides critical wildlife habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds and spawning areas for northern pike.
Also last week, the National Association of Conservation Districts awarded Dane County an $80,000 grant to hire a specialist to work with farmers to solve runoff problems.
Farmers northwest of Lake Mendota have been doing a lot of stop cow manure from washing off their land toward the lakes. But heavy rains still pose lots of risk, and conservation practices must continue to expand.
It’s not just current farms that leak phosphorus-laden manure to our lakes. Stream beds leading to Madison’s lakes contain a century of sludge that gradually erodes and washes downstream.
That’s why Dane County plans to remove 870,000 pounds of sludge from 33 miles of streams in the coming years.
As part of its efforts last year, Madison installed a stormwater pond and restored a wetland in Cherokee Marsh’s southern region.
Community volunteers help clean shorelines and monitor water quality.
Having so much public space around and leading to Madison’s lakes makes it easier to stop pollution from reaching the water. Last week’s double dose of good news comes with some public cost. Public officials must be careful to prioritize land purchases.
But last week’s progress was well worth the price.
— From the Wisconsin State Journal