Lake Levels

News and links relating to the lake-level policy for the Yahara chain of lakes.

The Lake Level Issue

In 2008, following back-to-back summmers of record rainfall, the City of Madison asked the DNR to review its orders for managing lake levels on the Yahara lakes.

Members of the Friends of Cherokee Marsh and other groups have advocated for lower summer levels on Lake Mendota both to protect the Cherokee Marsh wetlands and other shorelines and for public safety.

Following a year of study, discussion, and a preliminary vote, the DNR’s Yahara Lakes Advisory Group 2 (YLAG 2) had its final vote on its recommendations. The group voted for no change in the lake-level orders or operation.

YLAG 2 web page

Cherokee Wetlands and Water Level Impacts Presentation, Russ Hefty, Madison Parks

Citizen Dave: Lower levels on Lake Mendota for healthier lakes, April 8, 2012

Advisory group: Keep Lake Mendota below target level, Steven Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal, March 27, 2012

The draft recommendations and how they voted

Madison’s Request to Review the Lake Levels

Following Madison’s request to the DNR on August 15, 2008 and the DNR’s response to Madison on  November 10, 2008:

Madison’s Response to the DNR’s response. April 2, 2009.

Policies and Recommendations

Lake Level Orders

Lake Level Management Guide for the Yahara Chain of Lakes

Dane County is responsible for implementing the DNR’s lake-level orders. The county’s Lake Level Management Guide for the Yahara Chain of Lakes details the strategies used to manage lake levels within regulatory limits. Approved by Lakes and Watershed Commission October 13, 2010

Dane County Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan

The plan’s mitigation strategy includes these objectives:

Ensure that the Department of Natural Resources affords flood risk as high priority when evaluating the public interest in the lake level orders for the Yahara chain of lakes.

Maintain the levels of the Yahara lakes at the lower limit of the DNR’s set operating range as part of a comprehensive strategy that addresses flood risk and the needs of fisheries, recreational interests, agricultural interests, and lakeshore property owners.

The full plan.

Dane County Wetlands Resource Management Guide

The Capital Area Regional Planning Commision’s Dane County Wetlands Resource Management Guide (2008) classifies the Cherokee Marsh wetlands as Group I Wetlands: Wetlands in this group are the best in the county….Every effort should be made to protect them. Other Group I Wetlands are the wetlands between Waubesa and Kegonsa and the Waubesa Wetlands State Natural Area on the southwest end of Waubesa.

In the News

Local Media Reports

Lake-level letter: The untold story. Isthmus, November 26, 2008.

DNR on water levels: Hurry up and wait. Isthmus, November 13, 2008.

Getting too high on the lake: Mendota’s elevated water is a disaster waiting to happen. Isthmus, June 28, 2007.

Studies and Data

Lake Level Data. Information from the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department.

USGS real-time and historical streamflow and lake level data.

Madison Lakes and Nearby Waters Presentations from the North American Lake Management Society’s 25th Symposium in 2005. Includes:

Could Urbanization of the Yahara Watershed Cause Both Increased Flooding and More Boat Groundings?- Kenneth Potter, UW-Madison, Dept. Civil & Environmental Engineering. Page 7 shows how Lake Mendota’s yearly maximum levels have been rising over the years.

Groundwater Interactions with the Madison Lakes, Dane County, Wisconsin – Kenneth Bradbury, Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey

Simulation of the Effects of Operating Lakes Mendota, Monona, and Waubesa, South-Central Wisconsin, as Multipurpose Reservoirs to Maintain Dry-Weather Flow. Report on USGS study, 1999.