The discoloration of drinking and tap water has become a problem for some Madison area residents, and some University of Wisconsin students passing by Lake Mendota last semester said they were not impressed with the lake water’s quality either.
However, according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officer Don Schuettpelz, there is no tap water quality problem. Madison’s water supply is managed by the city and piped in from deep wells that have no connection to nearby lakes.
He said the water is brown because of excess iron buildup and not because of pollution in the lake, so students should not worry.
Lake Mendota is a prime location for many student activities, including rowing, swimming, skiing and snorkeling. Some students have been turned off from participating in these activities because of the murky water, unpleasant smell and large amount of algae in the lake.
According to a 1999 UW survey on pollution, Madison residents are concerned about the lake’s health and are willing to pay for its improvement.
In the 1997 Nonpoint Source Control Plan for the Lake Mendota Priority Watershed Project, residents agreed to pay a total of $18 million over a 10-year period to research the lakes and improve the quality of the water. The DNR has invested the money into pollution control and prevention research.
Research has shown that major contributors to this water pollution are barnyard runoff and poor nutrient management, which include pesticides and urban inventory. The DNR has devised strategies to combat these situations.
For example, part of the $18 million is set aside to subsidize costs to farmers to install runoff diversions, livestock fencing and streamside buffers.
Law now requires landowners with certain runoff sites to reduce the pollutant load to an acceptable level in order to eliminate pollution through urban inventory.
Despite the new pollution measures, enforcement has become problematic, leading WISPIRG to confront the DNR. WISPIRG is petitioning the DNR to adequately enforce the Urban Inventory Plan.
WISPIRG statistics report that less than 3 percent of the reported violations in the last year resulted in fines. WISPRG’s rough estimate for the number of sites violating toxic chemical runoff law is somewhere between 28 and 46 percent.
As a result, WISPIRG is calling for the state Legislature to enforce environmental laws.