Weeds and algae becoming big problem on Dane County lakes

MADISON (WKOW)– Weeds and algae are becoming a big problem in the Yahara Chain of Lakes. Dane County officials are working on some new strategies to remove them from the lakes and prevent them from growing…altogether.

On Tuesday, county workers were busy cleaning up Monona Bay. They’re driving some new equipment the county recently purchased to keep up with the problem. So far this Summer they’ve removed more than 5.2 million pounds of weeds and algae from the lakes. 

“Some days we’ll go up to six to seven loads, which fills up three or four dump trucks. That’s just one cutter. Usually we have three out here,” weed harvester driver Aaryn Handel says.

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The county’s fleet currently features 10 weed harvesters and 5 elevators. Officials recently purchased one of each, as well as two new trucks to haul the cut up weeds. All of this equipment costs around $600,000 a year to maintain. Officials say the weeds are hauled away and eventually become composting material.

“The weeds get in the way of boating, fishing and swimming. We’re also concerned about weed build up affecting the flow patterns of our lakes,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi says.

Over the years the amount of weeds and algae in the Yahara Chain of Lakes has increased significantly. Officials say it’s mostly due to the large quantities of phosphorus getting into the water. Harvesting the weeds is only part of the county’s solution. This year’s county budget featured $7 million put towards a variety of programs that aim to prevent phosphorus from getting into the lakes.

“A lot of farmers across the county have become a lot more conscious of the nutrients that they are putting on the land that can in fact go down stream and cause some of these issues,” Lakes and Watershed Commission Vice Chair Lyle Updike says.

Commission members are working with county officials and local farmers to prevent manure runoff from getting into the water. Some of the strategies include creating buffer strips of land and new wetland areas to soak up the phosphorus before it gets into lakes. 

Officials say the most important area they’re focused on is the northern part of Lake Mendota. This is where the chain of lakes starts. The phosphorus runoff from this area can easily travel down through every lake in the chain and cause significant problems. 


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