Yahara CLEAN

What is the Yahara CLEAN Compact?

The Yahara Watershed and its five lakes define Dane County and Greater Madison’s sense of place. Lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa contribute significantly to the region’s economic vitality, recreational offerings, and local quality of life. Clean and healthy lakes are truly the benchmark of a healthy community.

Large investments over the years have laid the foundation for future water quality improvements. However, our lakes remain federally impaired for failing to meet basic water quality and use standards. Land use and climate impacts, such as heavy rain and runoff, and other headwinds threaten our progress.

The Yahara CLEAN Compact seeks to improve the condition and usability of our lakes and beaches. It does this by expanding and strengthening the community partnership to clean up our lakes, and uniting around a common vision and action plan to which we can be accountable. Ultimately, it is a promise to build on our past successes and cooperatively deliver the bold solutions and actionable timelines that will improve water quality.

Yahara CLEAN Compact information

Yahara CLEAN Compact information

Click the image on the left to download information about the Yahara CLEAN Compact. The pdf includes a shareable QR code to access the Greater Madison Lakes Survey.

Madison Skyline, courtesy Robert Bertera
The City of Madison is located on an isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona in the Yahara Watershed. Other lakes in the watershed include Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa. Photo courtesy Robert Bertera.


Clean lakes won’t happen overnight. Progress requires a clear plan and dedicated coalition of organizations and resources. In 2008, Dane County, City of Madison, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection launched a lake cleanup partnership called Yahara CLEAN (Capital Lakes Environmental Assessment and Needs). Two years later, the group released a report outlining 70 recommendations. The recommendations sought to address ways to reduce phosphorus to improve water quality, and to limit E. coli contamination that can close our beaches (Yahara CLEAN 1.0).

Yahara CLEAN Timeline
Yahara CLEAN timeline

In 2011, Clean Lakes Alliance reconvened the coalition of partners to turn the list of 70 recommendations into a streamlined action plan with clear goals, costs, and metrics. The partners hired an engineering firm to identify the 14 most cost-effective, ready-to-implement projects and practices to help reach a 50% phosphorus reduction goal (Yahara CLEAN 2.0). If we’re successful, UW Center for Limnology scientists estimate we will double the number of summer days when our lakes are clear and free of algae blooms.

Yahara CLEAN 2.0 Goals and Progress Dashboard
Yahara CLEAN 2.0 action goals and progress made

The resulting Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan for Phosphorus Reduction (2012) identified the total, 20-year cost of implementation. It also detailed the cost per pound of phosphorus reduced by each urban and rural action.

Yahara CLEAN

In 2016, Clean Lakes Alliance evaluated the pace of community progress in carrying out the recommended action priorities set forth in the 2012 plan. The analysis showed that we would not reach our goals anytime soon, suggesting more would need to be done at a faster pace (Vision 2025 Analysis). This position was reaffirmed in 2018 when the Dane County Board of Supervisors approved a Healthy Farms Healthy Lakes (HFHL) Task Force recommendation to update our community lake-cleanup plan.

Looking to the future

In 2019, after six years of promoting and tracking our community’s progress, Clean Lakes Alliance reconvened and expanded partnerships to update the 14 actions for phosphorus reduction. Through this expanded Yahara CLEAN Compact (see Letter of Intent page 1 and page 2), we will account for accomplishments and progress to date, re-evaluate phosphorus reduction targets, and set forth revised strategies, costs and timelines to complete the needed work (Yahara CLEAN 3.0). Our overarching goal is to remove our five lakes and eight public beaches off the federally impaired waters list. At the same time, we will promote a culture of watershed sustainability that will benefit this and future generations.

Yahara CLEAN Compact Timeline Evolution
Evolution of the Yahara CLEAN Compact – Yahara CLEAN 3.0 includes more partners and collaborators than past versions

Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan for Phosphorus Reduction

Yahara CLEAN Compact Participants


  • City of Madison
  • Clean Lakes Alliance
  • Dane County
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources


  • Capital Area Regional Planning Commission
  • City of Middleton
  • Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin
  • Dane County Cities & Villages Association
  • Dane County Towns Association
  • Madison Area Builders Association
  • Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District
  • REALTORS Association of South Central Wisconsin
  • UW-Madison Center for Limnology
  • UW-Madison Division of Extension
  • UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
  • Yahara Lakes Association
  • Yahara Watershed Improvement Network

Challenges and opportunity

We are fortunate that our community has reached 42% of its annual phosphorus-load-reduction goal. This happened in the first seven years of implementing the 14 action priorities (2019 State of the Lakes Report). However, the low-hanging fruit is now picked. All five lakes remain federally impaired for not meeting designated uses and water quality standards. The primary impairment shared among the lakes is excessive algal growth and eutrophication caused by phosphorus runoff.

Effective plans are those that reflect the best information available. Partners and stakeholders currently rely on an assessment of challenges, strategies, costs, and timelines that are becoming outdated. As approaches, technologies, and implementation capacities evolve, so do the headwinds that threaten the pace of progress, such as invasive species, changing weather patterns, and intensifying land-use impacts.

An updated and enhanced plan is now needed. The new plan is leveraging new opportunities, addressing the barriers that impede progress, and holding us accountable to the needed projects and funding for success.

Lake Kegonsa Cyanobacteria, September 2018
Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element found in materials such as leaves, soil, and animal waste. When it enters our lakes from urban and rural runoff, it is known to promote the growth of algae and cyanobacteria blooms. Scientists have found that one pound of phosphorus can generate up to 500 pounds of algae. (Above: Cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Kegonsa in September 2018)

Project Phases, Activities and Outcomes

The project steering team consisting of appointed partner and collaborator designees has been meeting monthly since August of 2019. The target date for completing the updated plan is December of 2021, with implementation of any new recommendations following immediately thereafter.

2021 Yahara CLEAN Compact Schedule
Yahara CLEAN Compact 2021 schedule

Phases of the Compact will follow the Yahara CLEAN Compact Logic Model.

  • Yahara CLEAN Compact Logic Model (page 1)
  • Yahara CLEAN Compact Logic Model (page 2)

How can the community get involved?

The Yahara CLEAN Compact will set a path to elevate community awareness and participation. The Compact will outline recommended actions that involve ALL members of the community. Community involvement will occur through agency and organizational designees that sign on to the Compact and participate on a project steering team. As depicted in the 2021 schedule above, a series of public engagement activities are occurring to ensure that your voices are heard as the Compact formulates its recommendations.

Steering Team Meeting Nov 8, 2019
Steering Team meeting in November 2019

Steering Team & Executive Committee summary notes

Subgroup summary notes

Yahara CLEAN resources

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