Water quality project sees strides in year 1

April 30, 2014: Peter Lindblad-The Waunakee Tribune

Improving water quality in the area is going to require the efforts of many.

To that end, Yahara WINs made important strides in the first year of its “Watershed Adaptive Management” pilot project.

“In the first full year of the project, we’ve had good success, but it’s going to take everybody doing everything they can,” said Kathy Lake, environmental specialist at the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District.

The 2013 Yahara WINs (Watershed Improvement Network) Annual Report was recently issued.

The Yahara WINs pilot project is the first of its kind in the state, and nationally, to test the adaptive management concept. It ends in 2015.

According to Lake, Wisconsin is the first state to include in its code for water quality improvement the compliance option of adaptive management.

“It’s a shift in how we look at water quality,” said Lake. “There no one Holy Grail that can fix it. It’ll take everybody doing what they can.”

There are four other adaptive management pilot projects just starting up in the state, including one in the city of Lodi.

Adaptive management, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is a process that incorporates new information on a watershed’s health into its watershed management plan, through such means as scientific research, monitoring and practical management.

“This is the first time there’s ever been this kind of high-quality monitoring on what’s going into Lake Mendota,” said Todd Stuntebeck, a physical scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

There are four tributaries that feed into Lake Mendota.

The monitoring that goes on helps determine what’s going into Six Mile Creek and other tributaries, and ultimately, what’s going into Lake Mendota.

“Our best chance to detect changes is at Dorn Creek and Hwy. Q,” said Stuntebeck.

Stuntebeck is mainly concerned with the amount of phosphorus carried into Lake Mendota by the four main tributaries from agriculture, although he emphasized that it’s “not just an agricultural issue, but an urban one, too.”

Stuntebeck added, “What we’ve found is that most of the phosphorus is coming from Six Mile Creek.”

“We’ve put a lot of money into monitoring, and we’re learning a lot more,” said Lake. “It gives us a more complete picture of where the loads are coming from and when.”

However, Stuntebeck cautions that it’s “way to early to evaluate” what effect the program is having on water quality, estimating that at least several years to determine its impact.

Still, Stuntebeck is already seeing the benefits of the adaptive management program, one of which includes bringing various parties to the table, including the Yahara Pride Farms.

The Yahara WINs project has helped the Rock River Coalition with its citizen water quality monitoring, as nutrients are analyzed to determine the health of streams.

Of particular interest to Stuntebeck is seeing how a reduction in phosphorus levels will affect the lake.

If the amount of phosphorus is reduced by, say, 50 percent, he wonders if “the recovery will take years, not decades.”

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Natalie EndresWater quality project sees strides in year 1