One pound of phosphorus can produce 500 pounds of stinky, soupy algae in Madison’s lakes. So just imagine all of the green muck Madison avoided last summer by stopping 8,200 pounds of phosphorus from reaching the water.
That’s a significant accomplishment by rural and urban partners that all of Dane County should be proud of.
Preventing phosphorus-laden manure, leaves and soil from washing into the Yahara chain of lakes makes it harder for algae blooms to foul beaches and shorelines while threatening public health. Protecting lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa and Kegonsa also preserves Madison’s reputation as a great place to live, work and visit, which is good for the economy.
But ensuring healthy lakes year after year will require more commitment, as the annual State of the Lakes report detailed last week. The Clean Lakes Alliance, which produced the report, called for accelerating progress so the goal of cutting phosphorus levels in half by 2025 can be reached.
Last year’s success at diverting 8,200 pounds of phosphorus was an improvement from the previous year’s total of 7,330 pounds.
But after four years of effort, the region is just 18 percent of the way to its goal of 46,200 pounds, which is the reduction scientists say will consistently keep our lakes clean.
The lakes were helped last year by lighter snow and fewer stretches of heavy rain, easing the amount of pollution in runoff. We won’t be that lucky every year.
Farmers northwest of Madison are key to a permanent solution because streams there lead to Lake Mendota and the rest of the chain. Farmers used better erosion control last year to block phosphorus, according to the State of the Lakes report. They also avoided spreading excessive fertilizer to prevent an additional release. These encouraging efforts must expand.
Despite some setbacks, manure digesters that remove phosphorus from animal waste are worth further investment and are becoming more efficient.
DeForest last year cleared leaves out of street gutters so the organic material didn’t wash into storm sewers. McFarland has banned raking leaves to the curb. Madison is testing leaf bags that can be composted.
Fitchburg last year dredged soil out of ponds to hold and filter more water. Monona reinforced shoreline. Middleton relocated a stream channel from a steep slope to slow stormwater.
Dane County has been a huge contributor in coordinating and funding a lot of the work.
Every community and neighborhood in the watershed is part of the solution and should get involved.