Together in the clean water business

With area lakes a centerpiece of the Greater Madison economy, local businesses pitch in on cleanup.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Perhaps the greatest local understatement is to say that Greater Madison’s economy is impacted by the quality of local waterways. Wisconsin’s capital city is literally surrounded by water, after all. So it was heartening to hear last month that progress is being made in the clean up of the region’s five lakes — Mendota, Monona, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa.

“2016 was a great year — the water was as clear as it’s been in a long time in our lakes, but we got lucky,” notes Clean Lakes Alliance Executive Director James Tye. “A slow spring melt and less intense rain events meant phosphorus-rich runoff to our lakes was down. It shows us if we control runoff regularly as a community, we can impact our lake clarity.”

Following the Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan, which was first published in 2012, the State of the Lakes Annual Report tracks progress on 14 cost-effective actions that will lead to cutting phosphorus in half (by 46,200 pounds, to be exact) annually by 2025. In 2016, 13,600 pounds, or 29%, of phosphorus was successfully diverted from the watershed, which represents a nearly 10% increase over 2015.

The biggest improvements in 2016 came from increased practices in rural areas. Improved manure management, in-field conservation practices, and restored wetlands helped reduce phosphorus runoff from agricultural operations north of the watershed.

Despite the banner year, Tye says there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“The quick answer to where the investment needs to come from is ‘everyone,’” Tye explains. “That’s where the Clean Lakes Alliance has played the biggest role: showing everyone from businesses to residents that we all have a stake in cleaner lakes. When people talk about the lakes more, increased local government investment has to follow.”

Local businesses have certainly taken notice of the need for cleaner lakes.

“Local business leaders have embraced the lakes cause,” Tye says. “They understand that the lakes are an incredible recruiting tool, that water fuels our economy. They also care about their employees and value what our lakes add to local quality of life.”



A great example of local business support for the lakes is the Clean Lakes Alliance’s relationship with its sustaining founders, three out of four of which are businesses.

“All support our work on multiple levels, including financial contributions. Over the years Spectrum Brands has helped provide support for staff and brought expertise to our boards, on top of lakeshore volunteer days,” notes Tye. “Lands’ End donates apparel for our outdoor events and has volunteered over five years on restoration at Lake Farm County Park on Lake Waubesa. Foley & Lardner LLP provides pro bono legal counsel and our office space on Lake Mendota.

“Then we have smaller businesses that still pitch in, that close the office for an afternoon to cut invasive species at Tenney Park or host a brown bag lunch talk,” adds Tye. “There’s so much demand to help out that we hold corporate volunteer days every week during the summer. Many small businesses have become a Lake Partner business donor at just $75, $100, or $250 a year. This ‘all-in’ investment is what we need to achieve healthy lakes.”

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