Quick question: What's more important to you -- the health of our lakes, or the ability of lakeshore property owners to get their big power boats closer to their homes?
If you think that isn't a tough moral dilemma than you're not the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or Dane County. The DNR took a few years and had to set up a committee to arrive at the timid conclusion that maybe Lake Mendota should be lowered by perhaps three inches. The county, terrified of boaters, has refused to acknowledge the science on this for over a decade.
This should have been a slam dunk three years ago when I and others started the process to get the DNR to look at the issue.
The science is pretty clear. Wetlands filter water running into our lakes and help keep them clean. They also soak up water during wet periods, reducing the threat of floods. They're home to all kinds of diverse wildlife that contributes to the biological diversity that makes these ecosystems stronger and more durable.
On the other side of the equation are owners of marinas and big boats who need deeper water for the deep drafts of their vessels. If water levels (which can be managed by Dane County through a dam that controls how much water flows out of Lake Mendota) are lowered, they may not be able to get their boats into their docks. That might call for longer piers, dredging, or (gasp) smaller, less powerful boats.
The compromise recommended by the committee is to set the target Lake Mendota lake levels at three inches lower than they are now. This is progress, but not as much as a target of six inches lower would have been.
Lower lake levels mean healthier wetlands, and healthier wetlands mean cleaner lakes. The biggest wetlands complex in the watershed, the Cherokee Marsh, has been slowly eroding for decades thanks to the high lake levels that are kept for boaters.
This is not a hard choice. Lake level targets should be lowered by six inches to save and restore the Cherokee Marsh. And if that makes it hard to get your boat to your dock, well, buy a smaller boat.