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A fisherman at Lake Monona reels in a fish Sunday afternoon in Madison. The new Dane County Clean Lakes Task Force will act to rid local lakes from phosphorus, which is the root cause of excessive weed and algae growth. Planning for the group begins Jan. 1.[/media-credit]

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced an initiative Friday to create a “Dane County Clean Lakes Task Force” as part of his 2013 budget resolution.

According to Parisi, removing phosphorus from lakes in Dane County is
the focus of the task force because the chemical element is the root cause of
most of the challenges lakes face with the excessive weed and algae
growth it causes. 

He said the phosphorus runoff comes from rural and urban sources.

The collaboration is comprised of county board supervisors
and staff, members from the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District and the
Lakes and Watershed Commission, people with urban interests,
agricultural experts and others, Parisi stated. 

Parisi said the planning will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, along with the rest of the budget plans. The efforts to clean area lakes in the 2013 county budget come to about a $4.5 million investment out of the overall budget of $522 million, he said.

“People have really come together to implement the projects we need to start cleaning up our lakes, so it’s important we coordinate this partnership and the work we do together,” he said. “We have all these different organizations who are currently working together toward the same goal and this will help us remain on the same page and coordinate our efforts in an efficient manner.”

Program Director for Clean Wisconsin Melissa Malott said phosphorus poses such a big problem for lakes because the algae grows out of control and causes blue-green algae in the water, producing a bacteria that can cause sickness if inhaled.

According to Parisi, the county has come up with several low- and high-tech solutions for removing phosphorus runoff. He said some of the low-tech solutions include planting buffer strips along farm fields so runoff does not go into ditches and streams that feed into lakes and building roofs over feed lots on farms so cow manure does not get washed into streams when it rains.

He said the biggest high-tech advancement in phosphorus removal is a manure digester that will remove 100 percent of phosphorus from manure after it comes through the digester. He added there is currently one in Waunakee and the county will add another in Springfield.

“It will remove 100 percent of phosphorus and that’s a game-changer,” Parisi said. “If this pilot project works, as we anticipate it will, it will open up many more opportunities throughout the region for this technology.

Malott said other forms of pollution from mercury and the runoff of salt from roads in the winter persist, but that phosphorus cleanup is the top priority. She added she is impressed with the approach local groups and the county are taking to address them.

“I’m really impressed with Joe Parisi’s budget,” Malott said. “I think it’s really forward thinking. He understands the connection between clean water, clean energy and land use, so he has done a really good job in his proposed budget of knowing where phosphorus comes from.”