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A Brief Background On The Yahara Lakes Watershed

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A brief background on the Yahara Lakes Watershed lake levels

It is then followed by an analysis of key issues that describe the different actors and factors involved in the raising lake levels, elements that need to be considered in determining policies surrounding Lake Mendota’s lake levels and its subsequent effect on the rest of the Yahara Lakes Watershed. The policies provided to you are to be analyzed and decided which is the best fit, with a recommendation to permanently lower the Yahara Lakes Watershed lake levels. Background Summary: Since the mid 20th century, precipitation in the Midwest has increased by 42 percent (“Climate”).

In Madison, precipitation levels are also increasing as shown in Figure 1 (Dane County Land). It is also speculated that by 2055, there will be a 1.5 inch annual increase in precipitation (Dane County Land). In correlation to the rise in precipitation in Madison, the lake levels and peak flood levels of Lake Mendota are increasing as well (Potter). Of the Yahara Lakes Watershed, Lake Mendota is the main headquartered lake (Liebl). When Lake Mendota’s water level reaches its maximum flooding levels, it can cause flooding in the surrounding area, unless the Tenney Dam is opened prior and the excess water flows down the Watershed (Liebl). Civilians who live near and around the Yahara Lakes Watershed and the infrastructure are important actors in Lake Mendota’s lake levels. Issue Analysis: The increase in lake levels of the Yahara Lakes Watershed are due to multiple factors. The first, as previously noted, is the increase in precipitation (Potter). The second reason is local communities, such as Middleton, redirect their excess water from ponds to Lake Mendota (Potter). The third reason is civilians who live on Lake Mendota oppose lowering lake levels (Talaga). These residents oppose lower lake levels because it means they would have to buy longer docks (Talaga).

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In response to these three factors, the lake levels of the Yahara Lakes Watershed are continually at the maximum water level. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), issue and advise the lake’s lake levels winter minimum and summer maximum and minimum (Dane County Land). The summer maximum for Lake Mendota is 850.1 ft. and the minimum is 849.6f ft. (“Lake Levels”). Currently the Lake Mendota’s water level is currently 851.3 ft., one foot over the summer maximum. (“Lake Levels”). When water levels increase, there is not enough natural outlets for the excess water to drain, which can damage households and infrastructure near the watershed (Potter). Most recently in August, Dane County dealt with flooding in the isthmus and surrounding areas around the Yahara Lakes Watershed. Only four inches fell into Lake Mendota and the other lakes in the Yahara Lakes Watershed, yet the four inches had a greater impact because Lake Mendota’s lake level was already over the summer maximum height (Verburg). This damage from the rain in late August, due to poor management of lake levels, is estimated to be 108 million dollars (Berquist). Reducing the Yahara Lakes Watershed’s lake levels would allow accommodation from the increase in precipitation over Dane County. If the lake levels are kept at the same maximum and minimum, the increase in precipitation could cause another flood around the watershed creating negative impacts similar to August’s. Although lowering the lake levels, specifically Lake Mendota’s, would receive pushback from civilians living on the lake, it would provide stability.

Options

Key policies for reducing Yahara Lakes Watershed flooding

  • Issue a resolution and request the DNR to permanently lower Lake Mendota’s lake level to DNR’s minimum of 849.6 ft., year round. In the same request, include a permeant lake levels for Lake Monona to 844.7 ft., Lake Waubesa to 844.5, and Lake Kegonsa to 844.5 ft. which has to maintain a 4.9 feet difference from Lake Mendota (“Lake Levels”).
  • Issue a resolution and request the DNR to lower the winter minimum and summer maximum and minimum lake levels for the Yahara Lakes Rivershed by two feet.
  • Do not issue a request to the DNR about Lake Mendota’s and Monona’s lake levels.

Recommendation

The best option for the surrounding area’s infrastructure near the Yahara Lakes Watershed is to place a permeant lake level for Lake Mendota and the other lakes. Although there will be pushback from the constituents living on Lake Mendota’s coastline, by lowering the lake level by one foot, civilians will not need to purchase a longer dock. Permanently lowering Mendota’s water level will create more space for excess precipitation and runoff, decreasing chances of Lake Mendota swelling and negatively impacting surrounding infrastructure. In 2012, Dane County’s Water Resource Engineering Department conducted research on the lake levels of the Yahara Lakes Watershed and created a list of recommendations. Many the recommendations from the “Yahara Lakes Advisory Group 2” were to maintain lake levels in the Yahara Watershed – primarily Lake Mendota’s lake levels lower than normal to prevent major flooding and [impact] on the surrounding areas (Dane County Water).

Following through with the recommendation of this department add weight when requesting the DNR to lower lake levels. Conclusion: Lowering Lake Mendota’s water level will cause controversy with civilians living by the lake shore, but it will decrease the chance of flooding and infrastructure damage similar to what happened during late August of this year. Permanently lowering the lake levels by one foot will not have as detrimental impacts towards land owners and their private docks. Furthermore, lowering the lake levels during the summer months will create literal space for runoff and precipitation. There may not be an immediate positive impact, but bringing light to water management in Dane County will bring cooperation.

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