Dane County Issues Year-End Report on Lake Clean-Up, Flood Mitigation Work

December 29, 2022
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
County Executive, Land & Water Resources

“Suck the Muck” Initiative Removed 60,000 Pounds of Algae Growing Phosphorus
from Lake Mendota Watershed in 2022


Dane County removed tens of thousands of tons of sludge from area waterways this year, as part of a two-prolonged effort to improve water quality and reduce the risk for flooding, County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.


The onset of winter weather in December marked the end of the county's 2022 “Suck the Muck” efforts, with work happening this year within Six Mile Creek in the Town of Westport, between Waunakee and Middleton. Crews removed an estimated 25,000 tons of sediment from the waterway containing around 60,000 pounds of phosphorus. Six Mile Creek is one of several streams that feed into Lake Mendota that lab sampling showed had a high concentration of phosphorus in sediment built up along the bottom of the waterway. 


“‘Suck the Muck’ is an innovative, highly effective way to improve the health and vitality of our lakes,” Parisi said. “These lakes are so important to our quality of life and local economy, and county government is committed to this creative solution for the long haul.”


Phosphorus is the key ingredient for spurring summer-time algae blooms in the Yahara Chain of Lakes. A single pound of phosphorus can lead to almost 500 pounds of algae growth. To date, Dane County's “Suck the Muck” initiative has removed a combined nearly 60,000 tons of sludge containing an estimated 180,000 pounds of phosphorus from several miles of Dorn, Token, and Six Mile Creeks. Next up for “Suck the Muck” is built up sediment within the Door Creek Wetlands in southeast Dane County. The County Executive's 2023 budget includes $2 million for planning that project in the New Year, with construction slated for 2024.


“Our updated community plan, called Renew the Blue, promotes efforts like “Suck the Muck” that reduce the availability of phosphorus that might otherwise reach the lakes. We are fortunate that Dane County has had the foresight to invest in these types of watershed-improvement initiatives,” said James Tye, Executive Director of Clean Lakes Alliance. “Despite climate change and increased runoff making water quality recovery all the more challenging, the county continues to lead with bold but targeted action to protect our greatest natural assets.”


When floodwaters struck in 2018, the county took the successes seen with “Suck the Muck” to build a comprehensive new initiative to reduce the risk of future flooding. The county purchased hydraulic dredging equipment and hired a new staff team dedicated to work on removing sludge that causes lakes to rise faster with intense rains.


This crew removed 18,500 cubic yards of sludge this past year in an area between Babcock Dam on Lake Waubesa and Lower Mud Lake, one of several identified “choke points” in the Yahara River where water flow slows, causing lake levels upstream to rise. By the end of next year, Dane County is on track to remove over 40 million gallons of debris that in the past had contributed to flooding concerns. That's the equivalent of approximately 15,000 dump trucks full of sediment and debris hauled out of the bottom of the river.


“With an ever-changing climate that we know is increasingly less predictable, we know it's important to prepare now to increase our resiliency for what lies ahead,” Parisi said. “We know bigger storms and heavier rains are occurring more frequently and this work helps us be ready and hopefully minimize future property damage.”


The county's flood risk reduction dredging will focus on an area of the river between Lafollette Dam along Lake Kegonsa and Highway B in 2023. Hydraulic dredging will start in that area as soon as the weather allows in the spring.


“Whether it's cleaning our waters or preventing them from rising and doing damage, we know the work we're doing is one important part of overall solutions needed to keep our lakes, streams, and rivers healthy,” Parisi said. “We are fortunate to live in a community that places such a high priority on water quality and look forward to continuing to do all we can in the coming year and beyond.”

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