A Compact Beyond the Terrace

UW-Madison’s love of the lakes

A letter from University of Wisconsin-Madison about the Yahara CLEAN Compact

Like everything else this year, visiting the Memorial Union Terrace feels a little different. Yet as we sit apart, looking over Lake Mendota, it serves as a reminder that the physical distance between us is a sign of strength. We are reminded of what we can accomplish when we have the resolve to tackle a challenge, and Clean Lakes Alliance is evidence of that.

By bringing together a remarkable union of business, government, and education sectors, Clean Lakes Alliance has created a passionate and committed coalition dedicated to restoring our lakes. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is just one of 19 community partners and collaborators in the Yahara CLEAN Compact, and we are honored to be a part of such a purposed and principled undertaking.

Memorial Union Terrace, 2020
Students enjoy the Memorial Union Terrace during Welcome Week 2020

A Compact for healthy lakes

This Compact is just one of many community efforts to address the health of the Yahara lakes. Like in many communities around the state, the quality and health of our watershed have disintegrated due to significant phosphorus inputs over time, affecting ecosystem function and recreational activities.

For the past 150 years, UW-Madison has been researching and supporting the health of our lakes, and our researchers also support state and federal initiatives like the Freshwater Collaborative and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant. We are proud to leverage the expertise and passion of our scientists and students to further support the water community created by groups like Clean Lakes Alliance. The Yahara lakes are quite literally our backyard, and our affinity for them runs deep.

Lakes are integral to UW-Madison

UW-Madison is host to nearly 4.5 miles of shoreline along Lake Mendota, and the campus is situated squarely in the Yahara Watershed. We have the unique distinction of having one of the nation’s largest collegiate inland fleets, something not many universities can claim. Whether our students compete with the Fishing Team or research phosphorous inputs and stream buffers, the lakes are as integral to the essence of the university as they are to the health of our communities.

Social distancing at Memorial Union Terrace in 2020
Patrons enjoy physically distanced, reserved-table seating at the Memorial Union Terrace during a summer evening in 2020.
(Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Ancestral lands and waters

This watershed has been the home of the Ho-Chunk Nation for thousands of years before the campus was established as the state’s land-grant university. Their tribal knowledge and memory of the lakes helps us to create a clear objective and purpose for the work ahead of us.

Our Wisconsin Idea Seminar series often begins with Bill Quackenbush, the Ho-Chunk Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, taking some of our newest faculty to Picnic Point. He asks the participants to close their eyes and then he shares what the lakes looked and sounded like prior to European occupation. He describes white sandy shores, clear nights when you could see village campfires across the lake and hear drums and song over the crystal-clear waters.

It is a breathtaking ancestral memory, and yet it is so much more. That remembrance is also a vision. A vision shared by Clean Lakes Alliance and all of the participants in the Yahara CLEAN Compact. It is a vision that inspires us to do more, do it with urgency, do it with respect, and do it together.

All Together and All Ways Forward,

Alan Fish, Associate Vice Chancellor, UW Facilities Planning and Management

Alan Fish, Associate Vice Chancellor
UW Facilities Planning and Management

Missy Nergard, Director, UW Office of Sustainability

Missy Nergard, Director
UW Office of Sustainability

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