By Susan Frett, Friends of Lake Wingra

Lake Wingra is the smallest of the five Madison lakes, and it is a hidden treasure on the near west side of Madison. It is well-loved by people who live nearby, with many neighbors visiting daily to paddle on the lake, play Frisbee in the park, try their luck catching fish, walk their dogs or simply sit along the shoreline and enjoy the peaceful view. During the winter, many people enjoy exploring the frozen surface of the lake as well.

Photo credit Richard Hurd.

The lake is surrounded by the City of Madison, providing area residents wonderful access to nature close to their homes. The urban location, however, presents a major challenge to the health of Lake Wingra, as the impervious surfaces of development in the watershed have increased the amount of stormwater runoff.  Friends of Lake Wingra is a local organization that formed in 1998 to improve the health of Lake Wingra through coordinated watershed management and increased citizen stewardship of the lake and its watershed.

Over the last several years we have been working together with the City of Madison and other partners to develop the Lake Wingra Watershed Management Plan. This plan identifies goals that we need to meet in order to restore Lake Wingra and to protect it for future generations. These goals include decreasing phosphorus and chloride (which comes from road salt) runoff into the lake and increasing infiltration throughout the watershed. While the plan is not yet final, implementation of some of its recommendations should begin as soon as possible.  Many of the actions will be implemented by municipalities, but some are actions that individuals can do.

Throughout 2016, Friends of Lake Wingra will work to promote the Lake Wingra Management Kickoff Campaign. We are thankful to the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin’s C.D. Besadny Conservation Grant Program for providing funding for this project. This campaign is specifically targeted to educate people who live and work within the Lake Wingra watershed about what actions they can take to help Lake Wingra.

This winter, we are focused on reducing chloride use in the watershed and around Madison. We are taking part in the Wisconsin Salt Wise partnership and working with local applicators of road salt to train them how to safely reduce their application rates. Many private applicators knowingly apply 3-5 times the amount of salt needed to be effective on sidewalks and parking lots. Overuse does not make the product work better or faster, it is just wasteful and harmful to water quality.

Historic levels of chloride in Lake Wingra averaged about 3-5 milligrams per liter, but starting in 1962 concentrations began increasing as road salt started being used. Current average levels are 100 milligrams per liter (Public Health Road Salt Report, 2015). Some reports estimate that Lake Wingra receives 4,000 tons of salt per year in stormwater runoff! That amount would be equal to 700 elephants standing in the lake. Additionally, once salt pollutes an aquifer or water body it never goes away. The effects of increasing chloride are already being observed in the decreased levels of natural fish reproduction in the lake. In other areas of Madison, drinking water is beginning to be affected as well. This pollution is a severe threat to our water resources, which threatens the health of our economy as well as the environment.

There are many actions that we can all take to reduce the overuse of de-icing salt. At home, shovel promptly after a storm, use sand for traction instead of salt and when salt is necessary apply no more than four pounds per 1000 square feet. We can all also help to educate our friends, neighbors and local businesses about the need to reduce usage. The picture below shows a common example of over-application and an example of the appropriate application of salt. If you see a parking lot or sidewalk with too much road salt take a moment to let the business know; they may be able to save money by asking their applicator to use less. If you see the appropriate amount of salt used, also take a moment to thank the business or municipality for doing their part to protect water quality!

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