I famously said in our August newsletter that I didn’t consider summer to be almost over because I measured summer from pier in day to pier out day. Since I normally take the last of my pier out in November, we were only half way through summer by my measure. In a “be careful what you wish for” irony, I took my pier out in September.
Summer is now over! Many of you took the first steps of understanding the complexities of managing our lakes when you attended the May YLA seminar on managing lake levels.
John Reimer, Assistant Director of Dane County Land and Water Resources Department, had an excellent presentation on the hydrology of our lake system and the increasing challenges of managing our lake levels. John and Dane County Executive, Joe Parisi, have recently been giving an updated version of that presentation at a number of different venues this Fall as they discuss the flood initiatives included in the 2019 budget. We were happy to see that the flood initiatives included the three main requests contained in our September letter to the County Executive.
If you can’t catch one of the sessions throughout the area, you can find the October 10th presentation at CLA’s Yahara Lakes 101 here or on YouTube…
I would not be surprised if one of your conclusions from those presentations would be that there is no silver bullet to solve the flooding issue. I hear a lot about changing the target lake levels and while I believe there needs to be a serious consideration to changing the target lake levels on all of our lakes, (not just Lake Mendota), the solution to mitigating the risk of flooding more likely rests with adopting measures to reduce the flow of water into the lakes and increasing the flow out of the lakes.
Taking some poetic license, here are my main takeaways from John Reimer’s presentation:
The total amount of water that flows through the Yahara lakes in a typical year far exceeds the targeted lake level range on Lake Mendota. Therefore, efforts to reduce the flow of water into the lake or increase the flow out of the lake offer a greater possibility of success than just changing the lake level.
With Lake Mendota nearly twice the combined size of Lakes Monona and Waubesa, increasing the storage capacity of Lake Mendota by 6 or 12 inches would have double the effect on the levels in the lower lakes. However, there is a real question whether a lower target lake level could even be reached or if so, consistently maintained.
The Babcock and Lafollette Dams have been effectively fully open since August of 2016. There is no realistic possibility that the lakes can be managed to stay within their target ranges until we get to the point where we can move more water out of the system than the flow of water into the system. It doesn’t matter how many electronic controls we have on the dams downstream if they are always wide open.
So the key to any long term solution are the dual efforts to control the flow into the system - be it with increased infiltration standards, holding ponds, diversion efforts and the efforts to enhance the flow out by aggressive weed harvesting, removing the chokepoints and obstructions in the river downstream and exploring the potential of developing alternative avenues to divert the flow out of the system. These are the items the technical group created by the County to develop solutions to the flooding issue will have to consider if we are going to have a long term solution to our flooding problems!
This will be my last President’s column, as Sal Troia will take over as YLA President in January 2019. Thank you for your support during a very challenging year. It has been greatly appreciated.
Dan Schultz President, Yahara Lakes Association
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Schultz retired as President of American Family Insurance Group in 2014. He has lived on Lake Monona since 1986. Dan and his wife, Patty, have a son and all family members enjoy living near the water. Dan is a member of the Lake Monona Sailing Club. Dan was a YLA Board member in 2004 – 2011 but needed to step down as work travel and responsibilities increased. He’s happy to once again join the YLA board now that he’s retired and hopes to make improvements to our area lakes. He enjoys many lake-related activities such as sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and ice boating.