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Yahara CLEAN Compact, Charting A Path Forward

Bernies Beach

A shared vision for clean, safe, and accessible lakes

In August 2019, leaders from government, business, and nonprofit organizations came together with a shared vision. The vision included a future in which Greater Madison’s five Yahara lakes are clean, safe, and accessible for everyone. Together, the 19 partners and collaborators formed the Yahara CLEAN Compact and committed to sharing resources and working together to curb pollution and chart the best path forward to cleaner, healthier lakes.

Working together

The 19 partners and collaborators include UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Secretary Randy Romanski, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Preston D. Cole, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, and City of Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.

Past investments and recent progress laid the foundation for future improvements. However, all five lakes — Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa — remain federally impaired for failing to meet water quality and usability standards. In the face of a changing climate, the Compact aims to build on current progress. It will do this by updating timelines, budgets, and strategies to achieve a better future for our lakes.

Yahara River Watershed Map
Map of the Yahara River Watershed, which includes southern Columbia County, Dane County, and northern Rock County in Wisconsin

“Anyone who visits our lakes knows that we deserve better and can do better. Unwavering community support and advocacy to clean up our lakes will continue to be the key ingredient to our success,” said Clean Lakes Alliance Community Board Chair and former Wisconsin DNR Secretary Matt Frank. “As we work together to develop and implement the Compact, we must all stay engaged and give voice to the community’s expectation for bold action. There is no better time than now.”

“Unwavering community support and advocacy to clean up our lakes will continue to be the key ingredient to our success.”

Matt Frank, Clean Lakes Alliance Board Chair
Maple Bluff Beach on Lake Mendota
Lake Mendota

Yahara CLEAN Compact – looking ahead

Now, the Compact is transitioning from the initial planning phase into agreeing on bold but realistic goals that will define our direction going forward. With a late-2021 estimated completion date, this first of its kind initiative seeks to reshape our recommended community actions and funding strategies.

“The Yahara CLEAN Compact is driven by a philosophy that everyone should be able to regularly enjoy the lakes and play a role in their protection,” said Clean Lakes Alliance Founder and Executive Director James Tye. “We envision a cultural shift in which lakes are revered, intertwined with daily life, and motivate all of us to take action on their behalf.”

Looking ahead, Clean Lakes Alliance expects the updated roadmap will be a game changer. The Compact will lay out what is needed to reach our water quality goals within the shortest time possible. It will also determine how that work will be completed and funded.

“Our community is tired of waiting,” said Tye. “We’re prepared to do what it takes to make our shared vision a reality. We must to this not just for future generations, but for our generation.”

Bernies Beach on Monona Bay - the Yahara CLEAN Compact will help improve and protect our Yahara lakes
Bernie’s Beach on Monona Bay

A brief history of Yahara CLEAN

Matt Frank led the Wisconsin DNR in 2008. At that time, a partnership called Yahara CLEAN (Capital Lakes Environmental Assessment and Needs) was developed. The partnership proposed 70 recommendations for cleaning up the Yahara lakes and beaches. The main focus for improvement included phosphorus and E. coli reduction.

In 2012, Clean Lakes Alliance reconvened and expanded the partnership. This included commissioning a consulting group to help turn the recommendations into a 14-action strategic plan. The plan worked to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering our lakes by 50%. If fully implemented, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers predict we could double the number of summer days free of algal blooms.

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