Yahara CLEAN

What is the Yahara CLEAN Compact?

The Yahara River 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 with intensifying climate impacts, such as heavy rain and runoff, and other headwinds threatening our progress.

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

James Madison Park Flood
View of Lake Mendota from James Madison Park in Madison
Late August 2018


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 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. 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

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. 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


  • 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
  • Madison Area Builders Association
  • Dane County Towns Association
  • Dane County Cities & Villages Association

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 needed. The new plan will leverage new opportunities, address the barriers that impede progress, and hold 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. Any additional partners or strategic collaborators invited to join the Compact will have committed their participation by early 2020. The target date for completing the updated plan is spring of 2021, with implementation of any new recommendations following immediately thereafter.

Compact timeline_rev12-11-20
Yahara CLEAN Compact timeline

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. Planning is also underway to hold a series of public listening sessions, focus groups, and surveys, allowing for broader input and involvement.

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

Archive of Compact-related documents

Steering Team & Executive Committee summary notes

Subgroup summary notes

Yahara CLEAN resources

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