Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes

Two dogs died in Lake Mendota. The cause of their death isn't clear, but it is clear that the lakes are not safe for humans and animals for a large part of the year. Dane County has developed a task force to address these issues: Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Taskforce. The task force is planning to meet on the first Wednesday of the month at 3:00 at the City County Building.

The county lakes face a number of challenges. The biggest challenge is the phosphorous levels. Dane County has roughly 47% of its land dedicated to agriculture in some form. As a large dairy producing county, phosphorous rich manure gets into the water and travels through the watershed into the lakes. The high phosphorous levels lead to blue green algae and we have seen large blooms this year which turned the Yahara river into a toxic foamy mess where a large fish kill could be seen floating to the naked eye.

Overall in Dane County, agricultural trends are changing. Available cropland is decreasing while cost of land and rent is increasing. The number of cows and herds are decreasing. However, milk production is increasing. This points to a high level of consolidation in the industry and concentration of production.

There are additional challenges, such as invasive species (spiny water flea, zebra mussels). Climate change is also increasing the frequency and intensity of rain events that are washing phosphorous-rich water into the lakes.

The next six meetings of the Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Taskforce will feature a series of educational sessions, which might be moved around the community depending on the speakers and public interest levels.

The topics include:

  • History of phosphorous reduction.

  • P Cycle / Budget science overview

  • Farm Conservation and Water Quality Standards

  • Conservation Efforts

  • Manure management and storage

  • Nutrient management practices and other practices

The committee might also have field trips to different locations. Stay tuned to Progressive Dane so we can keep you up to date on the progress of the committee. We will alert our members of opportunities to participate in the public process as we work together with farmers, land owners, conservationists and ordinary citizens to make our lakes clean and safe for everyone going forward.

The details in this article are based off meeting handouts and a presentation to the committee from Amy Callis, Dane County Conservationist. When those materials are avaialable on Legistar, they will be linked to from this post.