A scenario for the future of Lake Wingra

Lake Wingra in 2035?

I found this thought-provoking scenario online.  It was the project of a UW class, Zoology 955, taught by freshwater biologist Steve Carpenter.  The students looked into their crystal ball, and imagined four different futures for Lake Wingra.  Their 2007draft report can be found here. 

I'm reprinting part of their report because I think it's important to think about the future. Our small choices today are magnified for tomorrow by repetition over time.

This class exercise shows how our lakes and streams are important for education, as well as for recreation.

 The "Garden State" Future for Lake Wingra


"The year 2035 shows a radically different Lake Wingra watershed than the one we see today. A global movement, reliant on new technology, emerges hell-bent on fixing the environmental mess that only appears to be getting worse. Between 2010 and 2015 over 5 trillion dollars are spent on green technology to mediate the most pressing environmental problems. Madison soccer moms trade in their minivans for hydrogen powered commuter scooters while NASCAR dads lobby their favorite drivers to use sustainably harvested locally grown bio-fuels. From rain gardens to local food production to the carp-a-thon, Lake Wingra followed the lead of the global environmental movement to green their watershed by employing the latest in new technology. Unintended consequences emerge as the population swells, ecosystems are replaced by engineered substitutes, and community groups hand over the reins to multi-national environmental super powers.

Details of the scenario

The globally-influenced and technology heavy environmental ethic in Madison led to many sweeping changes in urban design and planning with respect to energy and water. In light of rapid changes in the watershed, the residents lobbied their city and state governments to include the health of the lake and the visions of the many user groups into the ongoing changes.

In 2012 policies were enacted to construct prolific rain gardens around the city as well as to replace much of the road surface with permeable blacktop, developed at UW-Madison. The rain gardens not only acted to reduce run-off from streets and buildings, but the street-lined gardens were planted with native prairie plants that were harvested and converted to cellulosic ethanol for use in the municipal fleet. Three times each summer, automated trucks weaved their way around Madison harvesting the vegetation from the curbside gardens. Energy credits were given to homeowners based on the amount of biomass they grew.

Rooftops gardens were planted with newly engineered high-yielding strains of summer food crops, as it helped Madison achieve their goal of producing 60% of all their food from within a 300-mile radius.

By 2016, the Arboretum was overrun with invasive species. UW used proceeds from leased real estate to fund building of the Wisconsin Center for Green Technology on the site of the old Arboretum buildings. Madison relied on the output of the center to reduce their environmental impact as the city continued to grow.

The UW Arboretum continues choosing new buildings over saving more land

Energy and transportation costs continued to rise making it more affordable to live in the city. Green high rises that lined Monroe street and other downtown thoroughfares were built at record speeds. Though the permeable roads bolstered groundwater supplies, the roads could not withstand heavy use. Spurred by poor road conditions and high gas prices, 2018 marked the introduction of a light rail system in concert with the enactment of the congestion tax meant to keep motorists off roads within the city limits.

In 2019, all fish advisories in the Madison lakes were lifted as pollutants in runoff dropped to negligible levels. In 2020, the first-annual carp-a-thon mobilized disparate groups from recreational fishers to folks who consider catching carp as a way of life. Nearby businesses showed their support by serving the captured carp during the Friday night fish fry and by providing volunteers with awards for the most carp caught. The citywide effort landed 6,300 tons of the pesky fish in the first year, prompting even more intensive effort. Within a few years catches were much smaller as common carp were nearly eliminated. With the carp gone, water quality improved and native species became more abundant in the lake.

While many of the goals laid out for the Lake Wingra watershed were accomplished, some of the decisions made didn't come without compromise. Even with the most advanced lighting technology, the doubling of population in the Wingra watershed forced it to give up its "dark sky" certification and with that the loss of the largest urban astronomy conference in the United States. Yet, Madison was known as "Sustainability Valley" for its leadership in technological solutions to environmental problems. Conferences at the Center for Green Technology drew eco-friendly scientists and entrepreneurs from around the world.

2025 saw a collapse of most of the major fish species in the lake as the Fish for Madison Co-op (a cooperative formed between local grocers and recreational and subsistence fishers) utilized lake resources to meet the 60% local food quota. The lake was then converted into a catch-release fishery until populations could stabilize, but continued to suffer from poaching from members of the community who successfully evaded the Fish-landing Interception and Notification System (F.I.N.S.). When the fishery did not recover the Wisconsin Center for Green Technology gained permission from the city to use experimental whole-ecosystem aquaculture in Lake Wingra to continue supplying the city with locally grown food. Fishes bred for high protein content were stocked and reared in the lake with efforts to mimic the natural populations that had previously existed.

Increases in recreational boaters led to the construction of a three-story canoe livery that blocked the views of some of the high-value real estate near Vilas Ave., after which many wealthy residents withdrew their support for further environmentally minded changes in the area. By 2033 the voice of the FOLW was muted by community members with greater political influence and bigger budgets. In order to play with the big dogs, FOLW became a subsidiary to a global environmental partner with very deep pockets, Green4Life. The 4 billion member organization lent oversight to future changes in the watershed. In her 2035 State of the City address the mayor questioned whether Green4Life's vision for the city fit with the evolving Madison to which they were still learning to adapt.'
*   *   *
If you found this scenario interesting, read about the three alternative scenarios for Lake Wingra:
  • Big Green Brother: Grassroots interests and government action converge

Life under "Green Big Brother"
  • C-Clear: Regional politics complicate ecosystem management
  • Exotic Exchange: Unexpected invasions of exotic species create new challenges

Lake Wingra after future invasion of "jumping" silver carp

Illustrations are from the report of the class.

To get involved, see the Friends of Lake Wingra website here or email: info@lakewingra.org or 608-663-6921.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment on the article above, or on other watershed issues.