Dane County Board Chair Scott McDonell has put out a promising and bold proposal to improve the Madison lakes.
Scott's proposal would invest $27 million over five years to remove carp that stir up sediment, upgrade sewer outfalls so that less pollutants reach our lakes, buy land in critical areas for water runoff, install more of the barriers that keep scum away from our beaches, and implement recommendations still to come from a pending study.
When I sat down a year ago with Jim Lorman, a biologist who was my appointment to the Dane County Lakes & Watershed Commission, he stunned me by saying that he thought we could make noticeable progress in a short period of time by investing only about $30 million in these kinds of efforts.
That is a bargain when you consider that Monona Terrace cost over twice as much to build over ten years ago, or when you consider that the county recently needed to spend $44 million on a new courthouse.
Had I been reelected, I would have pursued this lakes agenda, but I also would have had a problem. I have long felt that Madison was pulling way more than its share of the burden when it came to keeping our lakes clean. For example, the city accounts for only about 2% of the phosphorous that goes into Lake Mendota, yet we go to extraordinary efforts to lower even that amount by, among many other things, banning phosphorous fertilizers and meticulously sweeping our streets. I believed very strongly that we needed regional leadership on this one, not just efforts by the city.
So, I'm encouraged that this time the leadership is coming not from Madison, but from the county, exactly the level of government that needs to tackle this regional problem. There are two reasons for this.
One is that water is a regional resource that doesn't respect municipal boundaries. It flows where it wants to and benefits all of us no matter where we live. The efforts of one community can be negated if its neighbors don't follow suit (see road salt policies).
The other reason is that the modest costs of this program should be shared regionally. Madison taxpayers, who make up about half of the county's tax base, will end up paying half the costs, which is fair.
Details about this proposal are outlined in a memo (PDF) from the Dane County Land & Water Resources Department to McDonell.