Chris Rickert: Clean lakes or delicious dairy — a choice no Madisonian wants to make

Another summer, another way to clean up Madison’s lakes — or at least keep them from getting dirtier.

This time it’s a vacuum that sucks up lake water and sends it back without the algae. Five years ago saw the introduction of floating booms to keep the muck away from the beaches. Who can forget the GoosInator’s efforts to scare away those lake-fouling poop machines? And, of course, there’s the taxpayer-backed manure digester that keeps springing leaks and violating air-quality standards.

It’s hard keeping up with all the innovation, but it’s probably impossible to make the kinds of far-reaching lifestyle changes that would make the innovation moot.

One of the major recent challenges to better lakes is the spiny water flea, a microscopic invasive species first found in Lake Mendota six years ago. It likes to feed on native daphnia, a microscopic crustacean that feeds on algae. In short, more spiny water fleas mean fewer daphnia mean more algae mean more nasty, pea-soup-ish water.

Jake Walsh, a UW-Madison graduate student in limnology, said an abundance of spiny water fleas in Lake Mendota last fall put the lake’s usual spring clear-water phase this year in jeopardy.

Luckily, the daphnia appear to have recovered. The question now is whether the fleas will come back as strong later this summer and fall as they did last fall, Walsh said.

Spiny water fleas are bad, but the 800-pound gorilla in the quest to clean up Madison’s lakes is all the excess algae-spurring phosphorus washing into them.

About 568 pounds of that gorilla — i.e., more than 70 percent of the excess phosphorus, according to the advocacy group Clean Lakes Alliance — is the result of farming, specifically manure from dairy cows that finds its way into the lakes, river and streams of the Yahara watershed. (Full disclosure: Elizabeth Katt-Reinders, CLA’s deputy director, is a family friend.)

Despite these challenges, dialing back local lake-cleanup efforts is not an option. For one, the lakes represent economic development — from pricier waterfront properties to fishing to triathlons.

Perhaps more important, no one wants to live in the vicinity of the smelly pots of green muck the lakes would become if left to fend for themselves.

The clean lakes Catch-22 is that agriculture in Dane County — which includes the majority of the Yahara River watershed — is probably an even bigger driver of the local economy. Last year, UW-Extension estimated its annual economic impact at about $3.4 billion, and reported that it’s responsible for employing 17,294 county residents.

And until people decide to deny themselves the delicious dairy products Dane County and the rest of Wisconsin are known for, that’s not likely to change.

Enjoying a scoop of Babcock Hall ice cream on the Memorial Union shores of Lake Mendota is no less sublime for being a huge contradiction.

Or, to put it another way: No one wants to think we can’t have our lakes and eat cheese, too.

 

View original article at: Chris Rickert: Clean lakes or delicious dairy — a choice no Madisonian wants to make

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