2023 Clean Lakes Community Breakfast

“Our Past Can Shape Our Future”

Date: Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023
Time: 7 – 8 a.m. coffee and conversation, 8 – 9:30 a.m. breakfast and program
Location: Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center (1 John Nolen Dr., Madison)

Online registration is closed. You may purchase a ticket in person, beginning at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, May 3rd at the Monona Terrace.


About the event

Please join us for our Clean Lakes Community Breakfast on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023! We will continue the tradition of bringing together our watershed’s premier scientists, business and organizational leaders, heads of government, and officials from the Ho-Chunk Nation to learn more about the lakes (originally known as Teejop) and new opportunities for continued collaboration and progress. 

Clean Lakes Alliance and its fellow Yahara CLEAN Compact members will highlight the latest science and Renew the Blue stakeholder guidance that will direct future cleanup actions.

About our keynote speaker

Samantha Skenandore is a Federal Indian and Tribal Law-experienced attorney for Quarles, and an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. She previously served as an elected Associate Justice for the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court. As a rights-of-nature proponent, she supports advocating for laws that protect land and water.


2023 tickets

Five Lake Sponsor (8 people) – $1234.50
Nonprofit/Government Table – $650

Thank you sponsors!

Presented by: Foley and Lardner LLP
Major sponsors: Alliant Energy, CG Schmidt, Lands’ End, Hovde Properties, Johnson Financial Group, Madison Gas and Electric, UW Health, WKOW 27 News


Sponsor a table

Table sponsors receive name recognition on promotional materials, email marketing, and the Clean Lakes Alliance website. A table seats 8 people. Please contact Executive Director, James Tye, to sponsor a table at 608-255-1000 or james@cleanlakesalliance.org

American Lotus and the Wisconsin State Capitol - Lake Mendota


What is the refund policy?Tickets are transferable but non-refundable. Thank you for your donation to Clean Lakes Alliance!

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Lands' End
Healthy lakes make the community and the economy stronger, and help local businesses recruit and retain employees. Clean Lakes Alliance is honored to partner with businesses that recognize the value of clean water, and that pitch in to keep our lakes healthy.

Today, we’re highlighting how Lands’ End has given back to our lakes over the years.

Read More

Lake Partner

Support our lakes and make a tax-deductible donation today!

The Lake Partner program recognizes businesses and organizations that support Clean Lakes Alliance through an annual donation made independent of events, sponsorships, or programs. As a Lake Partner, your donation directly benefits work to clean up our lakes.

Lake Partners may also choose to demonstrate their organizational commitment to clean lakes by making improvements on their properties, educating staff on watershed sustainability, and participating in volunteer opportunities.

Would you like to send your payment via mail? Click here for our downloadable Lake Partner form.

As a special thanks for being a Lake Partner, you will receive:

You’ll also receive invitations to events, updates on work to improve water quality, and the assurance that Clean Lakes Alliance is working on your behalf on a daily basis with city, county, and state officials to put the Yahara lakes at the top of to-do lists.

In addition to Lake Partner benefits, donors who make a gift at the $1,000 or more level are recognized each year through Clean Lakes Alliance’s Yahara Society.

Clean Lakes Alliance is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible!

Thank you for becoming a Lake Partner!

Warner Beach_-6

2022 State of the Lakes

2022 State of the Lakes cover image

Initiated by Clean Lakes Alliance in 2013, the State of the Lakes provides an annual synopsis of conditions, trends, and water quality drivers affecting the five Yahara lakes (Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa). This yearly report distills the relevant science while drawing attention to major efforts reported by community partners working toward cleaner lakes and a healthier watershed.
While authored by Clean Lakes Alliance Deputy Director and Chief Science Officer Paul Dearlove, all findings and conclusions are a product of collaboration involving multiple governmental partners and scientific contributors. We expecially thank the following organizations and individuals for their data and analytical contributions to this 2022 State of the Lakes: UW-Madison Center for Limnology (Richard Lathrop), UW-Madison Departments of Agronomy and Civil & Environmental Engineering (Eric Booth), U.S. Geological Survey (Todd Stuntebeck and Matthew Diebel), Dane County Land & Water Resources Department (Kyle Minks), Public Health Madison & Dane County, and Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.

2022 State of the Lakes

Welcome to the 10-year-anniversary edition of the State of the Lakes. Along with the original release of the Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan for Phosphorus Reduction (2012), Clean Lakes Alliance has brought key implementation partners together to collaborate on advancing recommended actions and tracking our collective progress. Yearly updates are then reported as part of this annual snapshot, raising public awareness about the health of our waters and the major factors driving those conditions.  

A lot can happen over a decade: floods, droughts, major project completions, new research discoveries and understandings, technological advancements, land-use change, and even aquatic invasive species infestations (read the 2022 Clean Boats, Clean Waters program update). The list goes on and on. Like canaries in a coal mine, our lakes respond to these changes in good ways and bad, signaling what is working and where we might be falling short on the path to improvement. While some of these lake responses can unfold quickly, others can take years to materialize.

Now, after 10 years of implementing the action plan, a fully updated and amended version is steering our collective efforts. Called RENEW THE BLUE: A Community Guide for Cleaner Lakes & Beaches in the Yahara Watershed (2022), this latest body of work by the Yahara CLEAN Compact recalibrates the roadmap for achieving healthy waters. Its recent signing by the leaders of 19 partnering organizations is a credit to the power of shared values, science-based planning, and broadly inclusive participation in solution-making.

Olin Park July 7, 2022
View of downtown Madison from above Olin Park on Lake Monona. Photo courtesy Robert Bertera.

In 2022, the Yahara chain of lakes generally fared well. Comparatively less runoff and phosphorus pollution were aided by a span of unusually dry weather and the continued adoption of conservation practices across the watershed. These factors, along with others, contributed to mostly good water clarity, fewer cyanobacteria-bloom sightings, and a lower number of beach closures.

Impact zone

Our Yahara chain of lakes lies within the lower reaches of a 385-square-mile watershed, a land-drainage basin beginning at the southern edge of Columbia County and extending south through much of Dane County, including Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison. Precipitation falling over this land area either soaks into the ground or runs off and into a network of streams or storm sewers toward the lower-elevation lakes.

Water that is able to soak into the ground recharges groundwater which feeds springs, providing dry-weather “baseflow” to streams or direct springwater to the lakes. The lakes collect and temporarily hold the inflowing surface and ground water before it exits the Yahara lakes watershed and continues its journey through the Yahara River and into the Rock River near the southern edge of Dane County. The water then enters the Mississippi River where it is sent to the Gulf of Mexico.

The largest four of the five waterbodies—lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Kegonsa (in downstream order)—are interconnected by the Yahara River. Figure 1 shows the Yahara lakes watershed divided into smaller subwatersheds, also called subbasins or direct drainage areas, that funnel water to a specific waterbody.

Figure 1: Yahara lakes watershed showing land areas that drain directly to each lake. Yellow denotes agricultural areas that comprise most of the watershed.

Lake Mendota’s comparatively large, direct drainage area is predominantly agricultural while Lake Monona’s is mostly urban. Lake Waubesa’s is a mix of urban and agricultural, whereas Lake Kegonsa’s is predominantly agricultural. The much smaller and shallower Lake Wingra, which drains east to Lake Monona, is contained within an entirely urbanized subbasin. Together, these subbasins gather and direct surface water that then moves from one lake into the next. 

The time it takes each lake to completely cycle through its volume of water ranges from 4.3 years  for deeper Lake Mendota to only 2.8 months for shallower, downstream Lake Waubesa. These flushing rates for each lake increase during wet, high-runoff years and decrease during drought years.

The five Yahara lakes have a complex relationship with their surrounding watershed. Much has been learned about this relationship and the land conditions needed to sustain it. But because many variables are at play (i.e., climate, geology, soil health, land cover, land use, lake ecology, etc.), teasing out the precise causes of water quality change can often prove complicated. And because the lakes themselves exhibit their own unique characteristics, each lake can behave somewhat differently in response to internal (in-lake) and external (watershed) influences.

Assessment methodology

This report looks at five, interconnected areas of interest that represent vital pieces of the larger water quality puzzle (Figure 2). Progress-tracking metrics include a combination of outputs (i.e., actions taken, or areas affected) and outcomes (measured water quality responses), with phosphorus management as a central theme given its dominant role in generating algal growth. In general, we track phosphorus and its impact on algal abundance, water clarity, and beach closures, factors that influence the perception of water quality and the recreational suitability of the lakes.

Watershed example - Figure 2
Figure 2: Cross-section illustration of an example watershed showing five areas of analysis. Example scoring dials represent condition status and trend for each area of analysis.

Too much phosphorus harms water quality and turns the lakes green. It can be found in fertilizers (note: phosphorus lawn fertilizers are banned in Dane County), soil, animal waste, and organic material. With one pound of phosphorus capable of generating up to 500 pounds of algae, every pound matters.

Whenever applicable, the 2022 condition status is described relative to a particular water quality goal or target. Status is also compared to historical findings to provide context and reveal potential trends. This allows us to make more informed judgements regarding lake conditions, the possible factors affecting those conditions, and the overall state of progress toward our goals. Finally, each of the five areas of analysis is assigned two, color-based “scores,” one for 2022 status and one for the longer-term trend.

1. Weather and climate drivers

Dials 1 - Weather and Climate Drivers - 2022

Weather variability and longer-term climate trends impact our lakes in many ways. For example, the timing and intensity of rainfall and snowmelt largely dictate how much runoff reaches the lakes and what it can carry along the way. Rain during a mild winter over frozen ground produces more runoff than if the rain fell during the summer when plants are actively growing. And while wetter years can transport more pollutants as surface runoff through the watershed’s drainage system and into the lakes, droughts will have the opposite effect.  

Long-term climatological data show a region that is getting wetter and warmer. According to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI), the last two decades have been the warmest on record, and the past decade has been the wettest, with average annual precipitation increasing 17 percent (about five inches per year) since 1950.

Governors Island flooding 2018
Flooding at Governor’s Island on Lake Mendota in 2018

Increasing rainfall volume and intensity represent an unwelcome trend that can negatively affect the performance of many conservation practices. In addition, warmer winters are leading to greater runoff and phosphorus delivery as liquid precipitation falls across frozen soils, especially where winter manure spreading occurs. The longer-term precipitation trend finally broke in 2021 and the first half of 2022. As a result of this short drought period, less surface runoff occurred, causing total phosphorus delivery to be lower than normal. This contributed to lake conditions that were generally more favorable. It speaks to the lakes’ responsiveness to reduced, external (watershed-sourced) phosphorus inputs and the rationale behind reduction goals.

2. Watershed phosphorus mass balance

Dials 2 - Watershed P Mass Balance - 2022

Calculating the difference between the mass of phosphorus entering (imported into) and leaving (exported from) the watershed tells us whether the net balance is trending in the right direction. The goal is to attain a negative balance, indicating more phosphorus is being exported than imported on an annual basis. This situation reduces the overall availability and potential of phosphorus to reach area waterways.

Conversely, a positive balance points to an annual net accumulation of phosphorus in the watershed, usually leading to its gradual buildup in area soils. Phosphorus-saturated soils subject to erosion from farm tillage or a lack of protective, year-round plant cover can eventually end up at the bottom of nearby lakes and streams. Phosphorus is also more easily “leached” (or released in dissolved form) from such soils when in contact with rainwater and snowmelt. Dane County’s stream-dredging project, commonly referred to as “Suck the Muck,” is designed to remove this sediment-bound phosphorus that has accumulated in stream channels.

According to Eric Booth, author of Phosphorus Flows and Balances for the Lake Mendota and Yahara River Watersheds: 1992-2017, there was a notable decline in annual net phosphorus accumulation over the study period, but with plenty of room for continued improvement (Figure 3). The study looked at how much phosphorus in animal feed, fertilizer, and other phosphorus sources was imported annually into each watershed compared to how much phosphorus was leaving through the export of crops, livestock products, manure compost, and stream outflow. The difference between inputs and outputs is the change in storage or mass balance for the given watershed.

Annual Net P Accumulation - Figure 3
Figure 3: Watershed phosphorus mass balances in the Yahara River (top) and Lake Mendota (bottom) Watersheds. See Figure 1 for the Lake Mendota Watershed, located in the northern portion of the larger Yahara lakes watershed. Research credit: Eric Booth, Ph.D., Associate Scientist, UW-Madison Department of Agronomy and Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

The most precipitous decline, observed between 1997 and 2002, is attributed to a decrease in imported commercial fertilizer and less phosphorus-containing feed supplements consumed by livestock. However, a growth in livestock numbers and milk production beginning in 2002 caused earlier declines to flatten or reverse, even masking the positive effects of advanced phosphorus-management and removal strategies implemented by the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District. While bans on phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers (2005) and household detergents (2007) helped to moderate these livestock-production impacts, it was the start of Dane County-subsidized manure digestion and associated compost export (2012) that saw accumulation rates begin to once again trend downward for both watersheds.

Booth explains that not all phosphorus accumulation is the same. The amount of risk depends on where it is accumulating and how “slippery” it is on land. He points out that the watershed is a leaky system and phosphorus tends to move around. “Reducing the transport of that slippery phosphorus from land to water is a key strategy. While many are working diligently on this through various conservation practices, we also need to treat the strategy of reducing phosphorus accumulation as an equal complement,” said Booth. “If phosphorus accumulation is not addressed, it will pose a long-term risk to water quality and can frustrate future efforts.”

3. Land conservation practices

Dials 3 - Land Conservation Practices - 2022

According to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI), the combination of warmer winters, wetter springs, and extreme weather events is impacting agricultural production throughout the state and overwhelming conservation practices designed to keep soil in place and protect water quality. WICCI’s latest report recommends regenerative adaptations that build landscape resiliency. Examples include preserving and increasing grasslands and natural vegetation by limiting their conversion to row-crop production or urban development; planting more cover crops on farm fields; and raising livestock on rotationally-grazed pastures.

Highland Spring Farm - Rotational Grazing
Highland Spring Farm in Oregon, WI uses rotational grazing with its Scottish Highland cattle

Considerable progress has been achieved to-date with the adoption of conservation practices throughout the watershed, including among many of those listed below. Thanks to the ongoing leadership and support of many governmental, nonprofit, and private-sector partners, the cumulative effect of these actions is largely holding the line against several growing headwinds described in this report.

As we move forward with Renew the Blue, several initiatives are already underway to improve our watershed.

• Laying the groundwork to quadruple its manure-treatment capabilities (see story page 50)
• Expanded the Door Creek Wildlife Area by 128 acres near Lower Mud Lake while budgeting another $10M for future land acquisitions
• Launched the next phase of “Suck the Muck” to excavate legacy phosphorous from area streambeds, removing an estimated 25,000 tons of sediment from Sixmile Creek north of Lake Mendota

• Adopted a first-of-its-kind ordinance requiring that excessive residual salt be removed from public sidewalks (not specifically addressed in Renew the Blue, but important for protecting vulnerable aquatic life)
• Created its third, permeable-pavement street near Midvale Elementary School to better infiltrate runoff
• Increased native plant diversity in stormwater-treatment systems, improving runoff infiltration and pollinator habitat


• Significantly increasing financial support to farmer-led groups working to grow participation and the cost sharing of eligible conservation practices like manure composting

• Strengthened its stormwater and erosion-control ordinance following Renew the Blue guidelines
• Purchased and permanently protected 105 acres of conservation land stretching from Governor Nelson State Park to State Highway 113 on the north side of Lake Mendota

• Deploying low-disturbance biosolid injection to better protect soils while limiting erosion and phosphorus runoff on participating farms

• Financially contributing to a Clean Lakes Alliance-commissioned study quantifying the economic value and impact of the Yahara lakes (important for building awareness and action)

• Initiated expanded phosphorus monitoring around Lake Kegonsa to help pinpoint problem areas
• Continued fall leaf vacuuming around the lake in cooperation with the City of Stoughton, Town of Dunn, and Town of Pleasant Springs

One example of a practice making a big difference comes from Kyle Minks of the Dane County Land & Water Resources Department. He reports the continued increase of farmland acreage under nutrient management plans. This tool is used by agricultural producers to understand how on-farm operational decisions can improve efficiencies while minimizing soil and phosphorus loss. Based on landowner records filed with the County (an under-representation of the total amount of watershed acres under nutrient management planning), 40,547 out of roughly 97,000 agricultural acres in the Yahara lakes watershed were mapped as having a nutrient management plan in 2021 – a 25% increase over numbers mapped in 2016. Dane County is also actively working to significantly expand manure-processing capacity in the watershed, among other water quality-improvement initiatives. If successful, the increased manure treatment will help address a primary source of phosphorus pollution to the lakes, especially during late winter and early spring when manure spreading is most susceptible to runoff.

4. Phosphorus delivery to the lakes

Dials 4 - P Delivery to the Lakes - 2022

When phosphorus accumulates in the watershed, it is easier for it to build up in area soils where it puts local waterways at risk. Most phosphorus is delivered to the Yahara chain of lakes through tributary streams that collect and channel upland-generated runoff as it moves downhill. How much is transported depends on multiple factors. The seasonal timing and intensity of runoff events, the location and availability of major phosphorus sources, and measures taken to contain those sources and manage runoff all affect the delivery process.

Stream monitoring may be used to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation practices by tracking phosphorus loading. Loading describes the total mass of phosphorus delivered to a specific location in a stream over time. In our case, we characterize loading in pounds of phosphorus (calculated by multiplying in-stream concentrations by streamflow) delivered through Lake Mendota’s monitored stream tributaries in a given water year (Oct. 1 – Sep. 30).

Perched at the top of the chain and receiving most of the watershed’s drainage, the condition of Lake Mendota is a good indicator for how the downstream lakes will be impacted. Lake Mendota is also the largest lake with the greatest number of monitored streams and the most complete long-term dataset. The lion’s share of phosphorus received by the lower lakes is through the outlets of the upper lakes as it cascades through the system.

Pheasant Branch
Pheasant Branch Creek flowing into the west side of Lake Mendota, courtesy Robert Bertera

Figure 4 shows the change in stream-monitored phosphorus loading to Lake Mendota since 2013. Total precipitation is also plotted in orange to distinguish between wet and dry years. In both 2021 and 2022, phosphorus loading to Lake Mendota significantly declined. This was largely due to recent drier weather after years of above-average precipitation, reducing the amount of runoff and phosphorus delivery.

Tributary P Loads - Figure 4
Figure 4: Phosphorus loading through Lake Mendota’s monitored stream tributaries relative to total precipitation. Monitored streams include Pheasant Branch Creek, Dorn Creek, Sixmile Creek, and Yahara River at Windsor. January to March (shown as black bars) is historically the 3-month period of highest phosphorus delivery to the lakes. Phosphorus-loading data credit: Todd Stuntebeck, U.S. Geological Survey. Precipitation data credit: NOAA Regional Climate Center, Dane County Regional Airport

Based on the most recent 10 years of phosphorus loading data, there is a 56% gap between the annual average load to Lake Mendota over this period and the goal of 32,600 pounds per year. Scientists estimate a doubling of summer days when the lakes are clear and free of algal blooms if this lower average loading goal can be achieved. However, this objective remains elusive due to the increasing volume of runoff and streamflow from a wetter climate that is bringing more phosphorus into the lakes.

“The good news is that if runoff and streamflow volumes had not changed, modeling indicates a significant decline in phosphorus loadings would have occurred over the last 30 years. This is due, in part, to increased adoption of conservation practices that have decreased the concentration of phosphorus in runoff,” said Matt Diebel of the U.S. Geological Survey and former chair of the Yahara CLEAN Compact’s scientific advisory committee. In other words, the long-term trend of wetter weather and increased runoff is counteracting the positive effects of these practices under their current rate of adoption.

5. In-lake water quality responses

Dials 5 - In-Lake Water Quality Responses - 2022

Several in-lake metrics are used to assess overall lake health and track changes over time. Those metrics include water clarity, phosphorus concentration, presence of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms, and beach closures. Each is summarized below. Generally, most of the lakes fared relatively well in 2022. Lake Kegonsa, the shallowest and most downstream lake in the chain, was the exception with respect to median phosphorus concentration, nearshore clarity, and cyanobacteria bloom sightings.

Mid-lake clarity and phosphorus concentrations

Water clarity readings are taken by lowering a Secchi disk from the surface over the deepest point in each lake. The depth at which the disk can no longer be seen is known as its Secchi transparency. As shown in Figure 5, summer median clarity values in 2022 were indicative of “good” water quality conditions in lakes Monona, Wingra, and Kegonsa. Summer clarity was borderline “good” in Lake Mendota and “fair” in Lake Waubesa.

Because the amount of algal growth in the lakes is usually influenced by the availability of phosphorus as its main fuel source, clarity changes often mirror changes in phosphorus concentrations. In the case of Lake Wingra, the continuation of favorable water clarity may likely be attributed to a major carp-removal effort in March of 2008. The non-native carp stir up the lake bottom and uproot aquatic plants through their feeding behaviors.

Clarity - Deep and Shallow Lakes - Figure 5
Figure 5: Median summer (Jul-Aug) water clarity readings and corresponding water quality classifications by lake type. Notes: Water clarity information was not available for Lake Monona and Lake Wingra in 2020. Water quality classifications based on Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ criteria. Data credit: Richard Lathrop, UW-Madison Center for Limnology

In 2022, summer median phosphorus concentrations were indicative of “good” to “excellent” conditions for lakes Mendota, Monona and Wingra (Figure 6). The lakes lower in the chain did not fare as well, with Waubesa classified as “fair” and Kegonsa as “poor.” According to Richard Lathrop of the UW-Madison Center for Limnology, “Lake Kegonsa’s concentrations were very high with dissolved phosphorus elevated way above analytical detection. This means summer algal growth in the lake was not limited by how much phosphorus was available. In contrast, the upstream lakes, including shallow lakes Wingra and Waubesa, had undetectable levels of dissolved phosphorus as algae effectively utilized available supplies.”

Phosphorus - Deep and Shallow Lakes - Figure 6
Figure 6: Median summer (Jul-Aug) phosphorus concentrations and corresponding water quality classifications by lake type. Notes: Phosphorus sampling was not performed in lakes Kegonsa, Waubesa, and Wingra in 2020, and in lakes Kegonsa and Waubesa in 2021. Water quality classifications based on Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ criteria. Data credit: Richard Lathrop, UW-Madison Center for Limnology

Recent drought years continue to have a positive effect on in-lake phosphorus concentrations. Lake Mendota’s concentrations after fall turnover hit a record low in 2022, a consequence of less runoff and external phosphorus loading (Figure 7). Turnover occurs when deeper lakes cool to the point where the water column can completely mix, usually around early November. This seasonal phosphorus index is thought to offer a better estimate of Lake Mendota’s phosphorus status. During turnover, high phosphorus concentrations accumulating in the lake’s bottom waters are mixed throughout the lake.

Total P at Fall Turnover - Figure 7
Figure 7: Lake Mendota total phosphorus concentrations at fall turnover measured at the lake surface. Credit: Richard Lathrop, UW-Madison Center for Limnology

Fall turnover phosphorus concentrations were also low in 1988 and 2012 following those extended droughts. “This is good evidence that Lake Mendota’s phosphorus status declines when external loads are low with benefits that should cascade down through the lower Yahara lakes,” said Lathrop. He says this shows the lakes can respond quickly and positively when phosphorus inputs are reduced. In addition, he points to 2008 and 2018-19 as high-loading years after which Lake Mendota’s phosphorus status  quickly recovered. This reveals that internal (in-lake) loading does not continue to maintain the lake’s high phosphorus concentrations.

Monona SE Shoreline 8 31 22
Clear water on the southeast shoreline of Lake Monona shows a lake-mixing phenomenon known as langmuir circulation. The windrows of white foam show where upwelling is occurring as a result of wind-driven mixing.

Nearshore clarity and cyanobacteria blooms

Clean Lakes Alliance trains and coordinates a network of volunteer monitors who also track water quality changes as part of its LakeForecast program. In 2022, monitors submitted 2,094 lake-condition reports. The bulk of these reports provide real-time information on the status of nearshore areas where most people interact with the water. Clarity, water temperature, and cyanobacteria bloom evidence are among the water quality parameters evaluated. The data complement center-of-the-lake measurements, painting a more complete picture of how conditions can vary over time and space.

Volunteer monitor reports indicated a relatively good year for the lakes for nearshore clarity and cyanobacteria bloom evidence, except for Lake Kegonsa that had an above-average number of bloom sightings (Figure 8). Lakes Mendota, Monona, and Waubesa had some of the lowest reports of strong cyanobacteria blooms since LakeForecast monitoring began in 2013. For the first time since 2014, Lake Mendota lasted the entire season without a single report of a strong cyanobacteria bloom. Lake Wingra had only one day of strong cyanobacteria presence reported in early July. In stark contrast to the other Yahara lakes, Lake Kegonsa volunteers reported strong blooms on 31% of all sample days (May-September).

Percentage of Day with Strong Cyanobacteria - Figure 8
Figure 8: Percentage of sampling days with report of strong evidence of cyanobacteria shown by lake and year

Compared to 2021, all lakes except Kegonsa showed improvement in average nearshore water clarity and were representative of “good” conditions as defined by Clean Lakes Alliance (Table 1). Lakes Monona and Wingra reported particularly high average clarity that was greater than their respective long-term medians. Lake Kegonsa, despite increased cyanobacteria bloom sightings, reported similar average clarity to 2021 and only slightly less than the 2015-2022 median. The lake’s shallower depth and its low-elevation watershed position likely contribute to its lower nearshore clarity readings. Water clarity for most lakes generally decreases throughout the summer with a peak decline in August. Lakes Monona and Wingra deviated from this pattern by exhibiting relatively high clarity readings throughout the monitoring season (Figure 9).

Avg nearshore clarity - Figure 9
Figure 9: 2022 average water clarity by month for each lake using a 120-cm turbidity tube

Beach closures

Beach closures prompted by observed and measured water quality concerns are another useful indicator of general lake health. Clean Lakes Alliance looks at closure data provided by Public Health Madison & Dane County for 17 beaches (Figure 10). Covering four of the five Yahara lakes, these tested public beaches were selected due to the consistency of tracking data over the prior 10-year period. Results are reported as total closure days recorded for each season, roughly running from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For example, if two beaches on a given lake are closed for a total of five days each, 10 closure days would be reported for that lake.

Beach closure days by lake - Figure 10
Figure 10: Beach closure days by lake. Includes beaches consistently monitored since 2013. Lake Mendota: Governor Nelson, Warner, Mendota County, James Madison, Memorial Union (pier), Marshall, Tenney, and Spring Harbor; Lake Monona: B.B. Clarke, Bernie’s, Brittingham, Esther, Hudson, Olbrich, Olin; Lake Wingra: Vilas; Lake Waubesa: Goodland County; Lake Kegonsa: None. Data credit: Public Health Madison & Dane County

Closures are most often the result of high cyanobacteria and/or E. coli bacteria levels, with closure rates strongly influenced by timing and  frequency of testing. Most beaches are tested once per week and then daily for beaches with a closure in effect. Cyanobacteria blooms, which are generally a product of high lake fertility, can be dangerous due to their potential to release toxins that can harm people, pets, and wildlife. High E. coli bacteria concentrations, on the other hand, indicate the presence of human or animal fecal matter that often carries pathogens that can cause illness.

In 2022, there were 91 beach-closure days reported, which is below the long-term median. Closures were relatively split between cyanobacteria and E. coli as the causes. This follows a year with a record 267 closures, with most occurring on Lake Monona.

Cyanobacteria bloom spotted on Lake Monona near the Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center in 2022. Photo courtesy Robert Bertera
Cyanobacteria bloom spotted on Lake Monona near the Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center in 2022. Photo courtesy Robert Bertera

Tale of two watersheds

The path to recovery rarely follows a straight line and disconnects sometimes happen between celebrated action versus how and when the lakes might respond. There will be successes and setbacks, good times and bad, and progress that elicits both hope and disappointment. All in all, the lakes belong to a watershed community that cares, collaborates, and acts. We value the health of our lands and waters. We also possess the knowledge and motivation to be effective stewards. Only time will tell if we are headed in the right direction through our investments and actions – a reality that can often lead to frustration among the people working toward cleaner lakes.

A recent article from Adam Hinterthuer at the UW-Madison Center for Limnology addressed this frustration, responding to an exasperated resident who wrote in to say they were sick of all the studies with no better water quality.

Hinterthuer began his post by quoting Victor Hugo – “Science says the first word on everything and the last word on nothing.”

He then continued, “Yes, science can tell us about the current state of our lakes and explain how they got that way and offer suggestions for how we head in a different direction. But that’s where science stops. It rarely gets the final say. It’s up to society to take it from there. Policymakers, resource managers, business leaders, and (perhaps the biggest agent of change) concerned citizens, are the actors that then get involved. When it comes to informed decision making, science provides the info. Society makes the decision.”

The “last word” is up to us. While annual State of the Lakes findings may at times send mixed messages, significant inroads are being made by many people and groups working for cleaner lakes. The guidance and tools are there, and we as stakeholders are called upon to play a positive role and leverage what is already working. If that happens, the days of consistently clear water, open and safe beaches, and a thriving lake community will certainly lie ahead and not behind us.

The Renew the Blue plan gives us hope that this is possible. As pointed out in Chapter 2 of that plan (State of the Science), “Even gradual change may produce noticeable improvements in water quality before the [phosphorus loading] target is met.” A welcome conclusion in a world full of uncertainty.

Paddling on Monona Bay - Brittingham Boats - Madison Magnet and OPEN
Paddling near Brittingham Boats on Monona Bay with members of Madison Magnet and Out Professional Engagement Network (OPEN)

About the State of the Lakes

The annual State of the Lakes is released each year as part of the Greater Madison Lake Guide. In it, we report out to the community on the state of water quality in our lakes. The report also looks at our collective progress toward our phosphorus reduction goal.

The report highlights information from many partners to share the most up-to-date science on water quality in our lakes. We feature local projects, including work in urban areas to protect stormwater quality and progress on farms to keep nutrients on the fields and out of our lakes.

In addition, we provide more information about Clean Lakes Alliance and our efforts to engage the community and advocate for the lakes. This report serves as a reference and a resource, highlighting community progress toward cleaner, healthier lakes for all.

Learn more about our lakes

Learn more about lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa.

Past reports:

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Clean Lakes Alliance is a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the water quality of the lakes, streams, and wetlands of the Yahara River Watershed

We are a unique partnership of diverse stakeholders who are building on and expanding upon decades of ongoing efforts to preserve and restore our waters.

Our goal is to raise community awareness of the issues facing the watershed, advocate for the welfare of our lakes, and help procure the necessary funding to clean and protect these waterways.

We work closely with state, county and local government agencies, waterway user groups, lakefront property owners, and community nonprofits to serve as both a positive voice for the promotion of our cherished lakes and a fundraising vehicle for achieving these ends.

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Renew the Blue

Renew the Blue is a cross-sector partnership initiative that commits to untapping the full potential of Greater Madison’s lakes. The initiative, developed and led by a diverse coalition of 19 community groups, offers an updated blueprint for cleaner lakes and beaches.

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State of the Lakes Report

The State of the Lakes Report reports on the current status of water quality in our lakes and illustrates our collective progress towards our phosphorus-reduction goal.

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Water Quality Monitoring

Clean Lakes Alliance’s water quality monitoring program trains volunteers to gather data about water quality and beach conditions at near- and off-shore sites on all five Madison lakes.

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Lake Forecast

Lakeforecast.org is our easy to use mobile-ready website where you view real-time water quality conditions on all five Yahara lakes during the monitoring season. LakeForecast is also available as an app on Android and Apple – download the app for free!

Volunteer Day

Clean Lakes Volunteer Days

Our Clean Lakes Volunteer Days provide hands-on, meaningful volunteer opportunities for local companies, where employees help maintain our lakeshores while learning more about our lakes.

Yahara CLEAN

Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan

The Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan for Phosphorus Reduction details 14 actions to achieve our goal to cut phosphorus runoff to our lakes in half.

Read more about Clean Lakes Alliance’s community programs.

Or search our website for something else:

Volume V, Issue 1

Happy New Year to the Clean Lakes Alliance (CLA) community! The year is off to a good start— we’re busy meeting with our partners to plan for phosphorus reduction projects in 2015.

To support our work in the new year, please become a 2015 Friend of Clean Lakes. Better yet, join the 63Club where Friends of Clean Lakes commit to a monthly recurring donation to support our efforts towards cleaner lakes. Your monthly support makes a big difference for our clean lakes efforts.

To show our appreciation, Friends of Clean Lakes receive free admission to all Yahara Lakes 101 events (a $110 value) and a Friends of Clean Lakes yard sign upon request. Thank you in advance for your contribution to healthy lakes and healthy communities – we continue to grow thanks to your support!

In Partnership,

The CLA Team


Table of Contents

Projects & Phosphorus Reduction: Rural Initiatives – Urban Initiatives


Watershed partners bring in $1.6 million federal grant

This week, the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $1.6 million to the Dane County Land & Water Resources Department through a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). CLA is a partner on the project, along with Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, Sand County Foundation, UW-Madison, and Yahara WINs. CLA policy director Elizabeth Katt-Reinders and Rural Program Manager Rachel Fossum worked with Dane County and partners to craft and write the successful proposal, which aims to build capacity for a watershed-wide approach to reducing phosphorus and reaching water quality goals.

Highlights of the proposal include the pairing of traditional agricultural conservation practices with new practices and technologies to reduce phosphorus and sediment runoff to lakes, rivers and streams; and with innovative approaches to engaging and supporting farmers throughout the watershed. Roofed feedlots, zero tillage, harvestable buffers, in-stream legacy sediment removal, and a regional community manure processing and storage site will all play a role in this collaborative effort to clean up the lakes and meet water quality standards.

Partners are providing cash and in-kind matches to the $1.6 million from NRCS. Katt-Reinders explains that the project allows partners to play to their strengths and leverage each other’s resources “to accomplish more together than any of us could accomplish by working alone. We’re all in this together to make sure that Dane County farms remain economically strong while operating in a way that helps clean up the lakes and reach our water quality goals.”

The grant process was highly competitive, with 600 proposals submitted nationally, and only 100 awarded across the U.S. The diversity of the public-private partnerships in the Dane County grant, as well as the established relationships and past successes among partners were integral to the proposal’s success.


Community Events

Frozen Assets Festival at The Edgewater

Mark your calendar for Saturday, February 7th and join us on the frozen shores of Lake Mendota for our new FREE, family-friendly festival. There will be something for everyone!

On the Plaza

  • Free ice skating (courtesy of The Edgewater)
  • A “Frozen in Time” Figure Skating exhibition (courtesy of the Figure Skating Club of Madison)
  • A snowman decoration contest (courtesy of our Snowmen sponsors)
  • Photos with Princess Elsa (courtesy of Sugar and Spice Princess Parties)
  • Handcrafted s’mores and locally-prepared hot chocolate

On the Lake

  • A hockey slap-shot contest (courtesy of the Madison Capitols)
  • Curling demonstrations (courtesy of the Madison Curling Club)
  • Ice fishing demonstrations (courtesy of Blue Ribbon Outdoors and Fishidy)
  • Sleigh rides (courtesy of Blue Ribbon Outdoors)
  • Snowshoeing (courtesy of Rutabaga Paddlesports)
  • Shuffleboard, sledding, and broomball (courtesy of KEVA Sports Center)

Check out our event site for more activities and to explore the festival.

Last but not least, register ahead to participate in the first-ever Igloo Walk on Lake Mendota, complete with complimentary hot chocolate, s’mores and snowshoe rentals. The walk is designed to be fun and casual, and will be ongoing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Renowned freshwater scientist and lake-ice expert John Magnuson will be on hand for fun lake science demonstrations. We can’t wait!

Want to get in on the behind-the-scenes fun? Sign up to volunteer at the festival – your support helps to make the festival free to all!

The Fundraiser portion of Frozen Assets is SOLD OUT. Tickets will be mailed to all guests on Monday, January 23rd.

A Special Thank You

Once again, our beyond-generous sponsors have helped us completely underwrite the costs of Frozen Assets. The Edgewater, as a platinum sponsor and event host, provided use of spaces for the festival and fundraiser completely FREE of charge. Our presenting sponsor, Lands’ End, graciously donated quality winter gear and attire for all volunteers and staff. That’s no small feat, as we expect 50-some volunteers! The annual Frozen Assets style guide for the evening fundraiser event was again completely donated, including design, photography, videography, and production provided by our partners. View the guide to see a full list – they deserve cred!

And as usual, our production partners, including Dynamic Events, Studio 88, Majic Productions, Canopies Events, and VAALID, went above and beyond to discount and donate services. Take a look at our full group of sponsors and partners on the Frozen Assets website – you’ll find them at the bottom of every page. They’re local, and they’re worth it!

Thanks to the dedication and passion of these organizations, we are on track to celebrate our lakes in style AND net $100,000.00 for our lakes. Thank you!


Mendota Freeze

On Friday, January 2nd, the Wisconsin State Climatology Office officially declared Lake Mendota frozen! Congratulations to the winners of our annual Mendota Freeze Contest: Laura Graham of Madison correctly guessed the freeze date at 6 p.m. on December 1st, and won the grand prize of a $1,000 gift card to Lands’ End. The contest runner-up was Peppin Karras, who correctly guessed at 8 p.m. the same day and won four tickets to Walt Disney World, courtesy of Spectrum Brands. In total, 15 people guessed the correct date, and the top 11 won various prizes from our sponsors – thanks to everyone who participated!


Yahara Lakes 101

On January 8, Bob Uphoff spoke to our Yahara Lakes 101 audience on Clean Lakes Alliance’s agricultural affiliate, Yahara Pride Farms (YPF). Uphoff is the vice chair of YPF, owner and operator of Uphoff Ham & Bacon Farm, and a very engaging speaker. Conversation with Uphoff, CLA staff, and 101 attendees continued long after the presentation concluded.

In his talk, Uphoff explained how YPF is so different from the many other groups and boards he had participated in previously. He also talked about the YPF cost-share and certification programs. Uphoff shared that “as a farmer, what impressed me was that [Clean Lakes Alliance was] trying to understand that we do run businesses,” and to keep the bottom line in mind when making the case for conservation practices.

Follow Clean Lakes Alliance on Youtube to watch the presentations at any time.

Upcoming speakers

  • Thurs., February 12, 2015: Marty Melchoir of Inter-Fluve on the streams-lakes connection & sediment loading
  • Thurs., March 12, 2015: Dr. Ankur Desai of UW-Madison AOS on climate change & the Yahara lakes
  • Thurs., April 9, 2015: Dr. Dick Lathrop on restoring shallow lakes by reducing carp densities


Projects & Phosphorus Reduction

Rural initiatives

While the ground is still frozen rock-solid, our agricultural affiliate Yahara Pride Farms is already preparing for spring. Read below to learn more about how we’re working on rural phosphorus-reduction through our Yahara Pride Farmers.

Save the date! Yahara Pride Farms Watershed-wide Conference

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Please join us for this year’s conference, which will focus on “Nutrient Management and Precision Ag.” This topic is at the forefront of ag innovation in our region and around the world, and we’re pleased to be hosting local industry leaders and speakers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Extension to share their expertise.

We expect 100-150 attendees, including farmers, agribusinesses, agency employees, and other watershed stakeholders.

The conference will take place at the Comfort Inn & Suites in DeForest, Wisconsin. If the topic pertains to your work in the watershed, please register to attend free of charge. Lunch is included.

2014 YPF Cost-share & Certification

Since 2012, Yahara Pride Farms has been cost-sharing conservation practices on local farm acreage, thanks to generous funding for the program from Yahara WINs. The program helps farmers to try out or expand practices like cover cropping, vertical manure injection, and strip tillage. In 2014, we exceeded our goal to grow the program: for our fall cost-share sign-up, farmers indicated plans to implement between 5,000-8,000 acres of conservation practices (compared to 3,000 in 2013). We will continue to finalize this number as Yahara Pride farmers report back the total acres that they were able to implement. Every acre counts, because these practices all keep soil on the fields and excess nutrients out of our lakes and waterways.


Urban initiatives

We are in the process of meeting with partners and gearing up for our 2015 urban phosphorus-reduction efforts. 2014 was a successful year of engaging urban residents and getting more people involved in clean lakes efforts – read on here for a summary of last year’s Renew the Blue efforts.

Greater Madison Yard Care Survey – Results

Over 1,600 community members took our online yard care survey, and we have now aggregated the results into a brief report. The Yard Care Survey Report provides a baseline for how urban residents living in our watershed manage their stormwater and fall leaves, and it helps us evaluate the decision-making factors that influence these actions. The report also has confirmed that most urban residents are eager to find more information about sustainable yard topics like healthy lawns, rain gardens, leaf composting, and rainwater collection, and how yard care can affect our lakes. Thank you for helping to guide our urban outreach work!


Thank you to our Funders

In the last two weeks, we have received new grant awards from the following organizations:

  • Patagonia
  • Professional Dairy Producers Foundation
  • Dairy Business Association and Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative
  • Milk Source

These awards will go towards our work in the agricultural community through Yahara Pride Farms. Thank you!


Lake Calendar

  • Frozen Assets: Sat., Feb. 7, 2015
    Festival (10 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
    Fundraiser (8 p.m. – midnight)
  • World Water Week: Mar. 20 – Sun. Mar. 29

Clean Lakes Alliance - NALMS Award

TAMPA, Fla. — Last night, at its 34th annual international symposium, the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) awarded Clean Lakes Alliance of Dane County the 2014 Technical Merit Award for Public Education and Outreach.

NALMS awards are intended to recognize outstanding contributions to the science of lake and watershed management. The Public Education and Outreach award is given annually to an individual, group, or program that has creatively and effectively contributed to the development and dissemination of watershed management or related educational programs, materials, or assistance.

James Tye, Clean Lakes Alliance Executive Director, accepted the award on behalf of the organization during the closing banquet in front of hundreds of lake leaders, scientists, advocates, and government officials. During the ceremony, even the presenter of the award was taken aback by the amount of work Clean Lakes Alliance does on an annual basis to get more people involved.

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What do fallen leaves have to do with lake health? When leaves on our streets and terraces steep in rainwater, they create a nutrient-rich tea that enters the lakes via storm drains and fuels excess plant and algae growth.

Each year, our urban communities contribute about 30% of the total phosphorus that enters lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa, and Wingra. That’s about 27,000 pounds of phosphorus from leaves, soil, and other urban runoff.

Fortunately, our community has an action plan and is working to prioritize and implement projects in the watershed. If you have a moment—and perhaps a rake—you can help. Here are three ways to start:

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Thank you for your investment in clean lakes through your support of the Clean Lakes Alliance (CLA). We appreciate the time you take as a donor to read Waves in the Watershed to stay up-to-date on our latest efforts to protect and improve water quality in the Yahara watershed.

Fall is a season for shifting gears. We are wrapping up summer initiatives and programs, and beginning to plan ahead for 2015. We invite you to attend our 2014 Ag Innovation Days (October 21st and 23rd), and our upcoming Renew the Blue volunteer day (November 1st). Read below for more information about these and other initiatives, as well as important updates on progress and projects in our watershed.

We appreciate your support of our organization and our mission.

In Partnership,

The CLA Team

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