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Yahara Lakes projects gained ground in 2022

Dane County removed tens of thousands of tons of sludge from area waterways last year as part of a two-pronged effort to improve water quality and reduce flooding risks. Dredging this year is planned around Lake Kegonsa.

Posted on January 4, 2023

Dane County’s ambitious project to clean up and clear its key waterway gained some significant ground – or more accurately, sludge – in 2022.

According to a Dec. 27 county news release, the county removed tens of thousands of tons of sludge from area waterways last year as part of a two-pronged effort to improve water quality and reduce flooding risks.

The ongoing “Suck the Muck” efforts project focused last year on Six Mile Creek in the Town of Westport, between Waunakee and Middleton, removing around 25,000 tons of sediment containing around 60,000 pounds of phosphorus. To date, the initiative has removed nearly 60,000 tons of sludge containing an estimated 180,000 pounds of phosphorus from several miles of Dorn, Token, and Six Mile Creeks.

According to the news release, phosphorus is the key ingredient for summertime algae blooms in the Yahara Chain of Lakes, as just a single pound of phosphorus can lead to almost 500 pounds of algae growth.

Next up for “Suck the Muck” is built up sediment within the Door Creek Wetlands north of Stoughton. County executive Joe Parisi’s 2023 budget includes $2 million for planning that project this year, with construction slated for 2024.

“These lakes are so important to our quality of life and local economy, and county government is committed to this creative solution for the long haul,” Parisi said. “‘Suck the Muck’ is an innovative, highly effective way to improve the health and vitality of our lakes.”

Flood mitigation

According to the news release, when floodwaters struck in 2018, the county used its experience with “Suck the Muck” to build a more comprehensive initiative to reduce the risk of future flooding, purchasing hydraulic dredging equipment and hiring a new staff team dedicated to work on removing sludge that causes lakes to rise faster with intense rains.

This crew removed 18,500 cubic yards of sludge this past year in an area between Babcock Dam on Lake Waubesa and Lower Mud Lake, one of several identified “choke points” in the Yahara River where water flow slows, causing lake levels upstream to rise. This year’s dredging will focus on an area of the river between Lafollette Dam along Lake Kegonsa and County B, starting as soon as weather allows in the spring.

According to the news release, by the end of 2024, the county is on track to remove over 40 million gallons of debris that in the past had contributed to flooding events – equivalent to around 15,000 dump trucks full of sediment and debris.

“We know bigger storms and heavier rains are occurring more frequently and this work helps us be ready and hopefully minimize future property damage,” Parisi said. “With an ever-changing climate that we know is increasingly less predictable, we know it’s important to prepare now to increase our resiliency for what lies ahead.

“Whether it’s cleaning our waters or preventing them from rising and doing damage, we know the work we’re doing is one important part of overall solutions needed to keep our lakes, streams, and rivers healthy.”


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