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The giants among us need help
The giants among us need help

The giants among us need help


Madison loves its lakes. They define and anchor our city. They are the very reason, going back thousands of years, that we are here.

Consequently, our lakes must be protected — from excessive phosphorus that turns the water from blue to slimy green, from invasive species that threaten native fish and a fragile ecosystem, and from heavier rain that climate change is already producing.

Our State Journal editorial board has been touting the importance and preservation of Madison’s lakes for more than a century.

Now, with State Journal reporter Steven Verburg’s benchmark five-part newspaper series, “The Yahara Lakes | Giants Among Us,” lake advocates have their most comprehensive and convincing proof yet that lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa and Wingra demand more attention and resources.

The Yahara lakes are the Madison-area's dominant natural feature. They affect our daily lives, yet we may not know them well. This Wisconsin S…

Our lakes are incredibly popular, with nearly 60 percent of Dane County survey respondents enjoying activities on or near the water. But the lakes are under siege by tens of thousands of pounds of manure, leaves, soil and other organic material that washes off the land every year, feeding the growth of smelly, unsightly aquatic plants and sometimes dangerous algae.

A lot is being done by farmers, businesses, property owners and municipalities to stop or slow this onslaught of phosphorus-laden material. The spirited Clean Lakes Alliance is leading the call for action and appreciation of the sparkling jewels of water in the heart of our city that extend southeast.

Yet more data is needed to better track where and how much pollution is washing off the land. Smarter laws with greater incentives to do the right thing must be pursued. Local governments and the state should keep advancing technology that turns manure and algae into energy.

The good news is that our lakes are resilient. Water clarity has dramatically improved during unusually dry summers, when less phosphorus washes off the land. That suggests a permanent solution, even during more frequent wet summers, is possible with greater effort.

Everyone has a role to play, even if it’s simply keeping leaves out of the street in front of homes so they don’t wash away, or building a rain garden to slow runoff.

Three months of in-depth reporting by Verburg highlighted the region’s lake challenge, history and solutions. “The Yahara Lakes | Giants Among Us” also included dramatic photography by Steve Apps, Amber Arnold and John Hart, insightful data and interactive online features by graphic specialists Jason Klein and Laura Sparks, video — from ground level and from the air — by Chris Doyle and Phil Brinkman, and contributions from interns Fatoumata Ceesay, Isabella Dally-Steele and Kynala Phillips. Assistant city editor Mark Pitsch oversaw the project.

As an extra touch for the sweeping project, readers submitted stories and photos of their own. They remembered jumping into “gin” clear water as children, “catnapping” in a boat under a bridge on the Yahara River, and marveling at the “fantastic views and reflections” on the lakes at sunset.

Madison must never take its lakes for granted. We must do more to defend this most precious resource for generations to come.

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