Yahara CLEAN

The evolution of Yahara CLEAN

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.

In 2012, Clean Lakes Alliance reconvened the coalition of partners. An engineering firm was hired to identify the 14 most cost-effective, ready-to-implement projects and practices to help reach the 50% phosphorus reduction goal. 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.

The resulting Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan for Phosphorus Reduction identified the total cost of achieving planned phosphorus reductions. It also detailed the cost per pound of phosphorus reduced by each individual action.

Now, in 2019, Clean Lakes Alliance is convening a Yahara CLEAN Compact to update the roadmap. (See letter of intent to create the compact.) Updates will account for a changing climate and project costs, and will meet our current water quality challenges.


Clean Lakes Alliance’s role

For the Yahara CLEAN Compact, Clean Lakes Alliance is reconvening and expanding partnerships to update the 14 actions to account for progress being made and new information about our changing climate. This work will include updates and improvements to targets, strategies, costs, and timelines. The updated actions will help propel us toward our ambitious goal of cutting long-term phosphorus loading to our lakes.


What will the Yahara CLEAN plan cost?

The estimated net cost to implement all the Yahara CLEAN actions based on the 2012 plan is $78.6 million dollars. This cost comes after a deduction of $49.5 million in private business investment in community digesters. Unlike previous efforts, Yahara CLEAN identified the highest-priority and most cost-effective actions to achieve the targeted phosphorus load reduction.

Have we made progress toward Yahara CLEAN?

Yes! Clean Lakes Alliance surveys partners each year and presents the findings in the State of the Lakes Annual Report. The report is released each May at the Clean Lakes Community Breakfast.

The next steps

Clean Lakes Alliance is working with community partners and collaborators to update our phosphorus reduction roadmap. This work will reassess phosphorus reduction targets, strategies, costs, and implementation roles and timelines. In 2018, the Dane County Healthy Farms Healthy Lakes Task Force recommended these planning updates. The objective is to both address challenges like climate change and to accelerate progress toward our water quality goals.

Clean Lakes Alliance published its four-year organizational strategy, Plan 2020: A Clear Path Forward (2017-2020). This strategic plan focuses resources on the eight most effective target areas to focus our work and leverage our strengths. Our action priorities continue to focus on the biggest contributor to lake problems, excessive phosphorus, while building a strong community of support for the lakes. We continue to advocate for establishing a dedicated source of funding to implement Yahara CLEAN.

Yahara CLEAN Compact partners and collaborators


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


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

Plan 2020 focus areas

Phosphorus Actions

Since the founding of Clean Lakes Alliance in 2010, our primary focus has been phosphorus reduction in our lakes. Reductions need to come from both urban and rural sources. The following phosphorus reduction focus areas highlight our commitment to engaging government, business, and community members in developing and implementing solutions that will improve water quality for years to come.

  1. Yahara CLEAN Compact
  2. Innovative Solutions
  3. Farmland Management
  4. Urban Management

Community Engagement Actions

We see a future in which everyone realizes the lakes are the center of our community. Our community engagement focus areas help mobilize and empower stakeholders to protect and improve water quality in watershed. As citizens make the lakes a priority, it will spark action to make healthy lakes a reality.

  1. Education
  2. Volunteerism
  3. Monitoring
  4. Capacity Building

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