The overriding challenge for our generation

Global warming is going to require us all to change--if not to stop warming, then to adapt to a warmer planet.

If that's not daunting enough, we have to change to avoid a world-wide resource crunch.  I found the following short essay explaining this economic challenge.  It's by a respected researcher, Lester Brown.

Reforming how we use water is an important part of our necessary change.

Green streets in Sunset Village?

Sunset Village already has a rural feel, especially in parts of the neighborhood without curbs.

Residents love their curbless streets, like Hammersley Av.

Imagine how much more verdant it would look, with rain gardens bordering these streets.

Madison has a rain garden program, where the City builds the gardens when streets are resurfaced--sharing the costs with residents.  That means a neighborhood might have to wait many years.

But on curbless streets, gardens and swales (depressions) can be built now--with less cost, and only minor modifications to the gutter area.


Winter solstice bonfire

Celebrate the return of light!
Sunday December 18
6:00 pm-10:00 pm
* * *
at the Campfire Circle
Glenwood Children's Park
just SW of the corner of Glenway & Gregory streets.

To add to the festivities, there will be live music, poetry reading, and photos to share on the web. This year's event is being organized by Peter Nause, Parks Committee Chair, Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association: secnatland@yahoo.com


Snapping turtles in our lakes

Last summer, I encountered this big fella crossing the bike path along Lake Mendota, near where Willow Creek comes into University Bay.  No doubt these turtles inhabit all our lakes and small ponds.

Common snapping turtle near Lake Mendota.

Wingra springs threatened by heavy pumping

Over the years, a number of springs on the shores of Lake Wingra have gone dry.  Vigorous springflow is important, because it helps to keep Lake Wingra clean.  Improved spring flow is part of the restoration plan for the lake.

The Odana Infiltration Project, costing over $2 million, was supposed to restore groundwater in the area by pumping stormwater into the ground.  But now that project is in limbo, since it was found that the groundwater was being contaminated--over legal limits--from the salty runoff they were pumping.

Still, a number of springs in the area continue to flow--to the delight of residents in the area.

Western Council Ring Spring--a window into a healthy underground.

Now, heavy pumping of groundwater is occurring at two construction sites in the area:

Parman Place at Monroe & Glenway St

The blue hose to the left is carrying the pumped groundwater.

Steve Glass sent me the following report:

You may have heard the recent report that excavation at the Parman's Place project has opened up a large underground water vein or spring (estimated flow rate of >50 gallons per minute, but no one will really know until it is measured with a pygmy flow meter).

According to reports, "the contractor is de-watering the site (under their de-watering permit related to petroleum contamination of the site) and diverting the flow into the sanitary storm sewer."

Also, according to reports, "the contractor expects that continuous pumping will be required to keep the sub-grade de-watered."

These reports and the possibility of continuous pumping raise numerous ecological and hydrological issues for the watershed, the lake itself, and the wetlands bordering it.

There are many unknowns. For example, scientists don't know with certainty the groundwater flow path, so the major question is how will this new spring opening impact existing ground water discharge rates and flow patterns? Increase them? Decrease them? No impact?

Ken Bradbury of the Geological and Natural History Survey has suggested (according to one source) that Parman's construction might disrupt flow to existing springs and pointed to the nearby Council Spring complex just off Arbor Drive in the Arboretum as a possible candidate for disrupted flow.

We have a record of recent flow rates (gallons per minute) for the past few years for the Council Springs complex and will be able to make some comparison of before and after flow rates.
"Continuous pumping" over many years--sounds like a big waste of energy.  Could the groundwater be used for heating and cooling.... or for a beautiful fountain?
Next to Wingra Park behind Jac's restaurant
At this second construction site, there is a lot of groundwater flowing into this excavation, requiring a lot of pumping.  As required by law, the flow is being filtered through a large bladder resting next to Arbor Dr. 
Water from the bladder is seeping into the storm sewer--hence it's lost from the ground and from the springs.
Another problem is that a lot of sediment is escaping from the bladder, and getting into the gutter.  It's only a short distance to the lake.  Sediment is the main way that phosphorus gets into lakes, to stimulate noxious weed growth.
Both problems--loss of groundwater and sediment--could be solved if the bladder can be moved to a depression in Wingra Park just across Arbor Dr.   In that location (right), the water would return to the water table, and the sediment would be harmless.
This construction site is violating regulations by leaving the streets very dusty and unswept after each working day.
The  pumping at both sites is within a 1200 foot distance from the spring--and may therefore be subject to regulation.
Teach-in at the springs
David Liebl led a group to the Council Ring Springs to talk about the issues, according to a post on alder Sue Ellingson's facebook site.
Below: East and west branches of the Council Ring Spring.

If you love the springs, make a donation to Friends of Lake Wingra.

Green gooses: Rain gardens that don't work

Hardly anyone remembers the Spruce Goose. It was the largest airplane ever built--made entirely of wood, with eight engines and wings longer than a 747’s. It was completed too late for use in WW-II, and flew only once, to an altitude of 70 feet.

For some, it’s a symbol of technology that doesn’t work.

There’s plenty of incentive to make sure planes fly safely. But often, there’s no incentive to make sure rain gardens work.  Sometimes, owners don’t go out in the rain to to see if runoff even gets into the garden, before paying the contractor.

One reason why some rain gardens fail is that the runoff simply misses them. In most cases, this could be corrected with a few ridges of asphalt, to redirect the flow.

Metclafe’s Sentry

This is the most ineffective rain garden I've seen.  In this large parking lot, there are long rain gardens between rows of parking, with gaps in the curb to admit runoff.

Despite heavy rainfall, no runoff is entering this rain garden, because of improper grading.

During a heavy downpour, almost all the runoff simply failed to enter the gardens. This was partly because the gardens and their openings weren’t much lower than the gutter. And partly because there was nothing in the gutter to deflect the fast-moving gutter flow towards the garden (below). More photos.

Visitor’s Parking area at MG&E

In 2003, the drainage of this large parking lot became a DNR experiment to test how well a chamber with special filters could clean the runoff, before it escaped to Lake Monona.
They tested the runoff before it entered the filters, and after it came out, to see how well the filters worked.

Early on, the researchers noticed a lot less rainwater was coming out of the filter, compared to what fell on the lot. So they watched the parking area during rain, and "drew a red line" around the area that actually drained to the filters.

MG&E parking lot, site of the filter experiment.
The yellow line outlines the whole lot; the red line outlines the area that actually drains to the filter.

Although the parking area was 1.3 acres, they found that only .91 acres of the lot drained to the filters. The rest spilled out into the bordering streets, bypassing the filter. In other words, because the lot wasn't sloped correctly to capture all the water, only 70% of the water falling on the lot actually went to the filter. For the runoff that actually made it to the device, the filters worked well.

More photos during rain. More on the filter. Scientific report.

Sequoya Commons

I'm a big fan of this large rain garden. It's beautiful, and for the most part, very effective. But runoff coming down the north side of the lot misses the garden, and instead flows out the east entrance to the street (below).

Plugged openings

Other rain gardens fail because the openings become plugged with debris.

Clogged opening for a terrace rain garden near West High School.
Later designs by the City have larger openings.


Cement dust is a hazard for children and pedestrians

They trust us to keep them safe.

Children play near masons (behind trees) who are spreading toxic dust.

Portland cement--in its various forms--has countless applications, from driveways to the mortar between bricks.

But a significant hazard to the health of Madisonians comes from the mixing of cement.

Hoppers for mixing cement.
Sidewalk on Mineral Point Rd, near soccer fields and Memorial HS.
There are children's footprints and bike tracks in the toxic dust.

Portland cement is considered a hazardous substance" by many agencies and laws. Hazards include:
  • alkaline chemicals such as lime--corrosive to tissue
  • trace amounts of crystalline silica--abrasive to skin and can damage lungs
  • trace amounts of chromium--can cause allergic reactions.
Both silica and chromium can cause cancer. Probably the main danger to neighbors is from cement dust. When it blows about, it can cause eye and lung irritation, For certain sensitive people, it can be much worse--a trip to the emergency room, gasping for air.  Some people are known to be very allergic to the trace levels of chromium VI found in cement.

What they are mixing: "Warning: Injurious to eyes, causes skin irritation. Keep out of reach of children." Click on photo to enlarge.

Madison--as dusty as a big industrial city

Recently, the American Lung Association identified Madison as being one of the most polluted cities in the nation, from the standpoint of short-term particulate pollution.  That means dust in the air.  Madison's air is nearly as dusty as that of New York City.

Construction next to Kohl Center downtown.

The Lung Association has estimated that Dane County has tens of thousands of people who are at risk from these high levels of air pollution.   This means people with asthma and allergies, chronic lung diseases, the elderly, and children.   For the young, it translates to days missed from school.

Construction sites are Madison's largest heavy industry.   And the way they generate dust is poorly regulated.  Construction sites themselves are bare, and generate a LOT of dust on windy days.

Big tires, lots of mud tracked from N. Henry St, downtown.  The gravel pad, which is supposed to control muddy tracks, was too short for this vehicle.

Another problem is that construction sites are typically muddy, and the mud clings to tires.  We're talking about big tires, with many pounds of mud per tire...  and many tires per vehicle.  The mud is spread about on streets so thinly that we hardly notice it.

But mud tracked onto the highways is ground into the pavement, where it's mixed with other toxic things--like oil, asbestos, gasoline additives, and illicit dumps into the gutters.
Ground under the tires, this toxic brew adheres to the tiny particles--which then...
  • wash to the lakes with the next storm
  • or are blown into the air.
So small particles, inhaled, become a way for toxic things to get into our bodies.  We wouldn't eat street dust--so why should we have to breathe it?

Many other sources of dust: Bare ground at dumps, quarries, and industrial yards like this one at MG&E.

The Madison Health Department has authority to regulate these hazards.   The Engineering Department also has authority to regulate dust, because when it rains, dust becomes muddy stormwater.  The two should team up, with Health focusing on the most toxic issues, such as the location of cement hoppers, and the spilling of concrete slurry to the gutter in neighborhoods.

I thought concrete was safe... It's everywhere, even in my own basement. Should I be concerned about that?

No... solid concrete is safe. That's because everything, including the toxic traces, is locked up in solid form. It's only when the concrete or cement is turned into something mobile--dust or slurry--that it becomes a concern. That's why safe disposal of these mobile wastes is important.

Another answer is: "It's not quite as safe as we thought." By this, I mean that as more and more concrete accumulates in the environment, the toxic things can build up. More and more people mean more construction. Chromium, probably the most dangerous thing in cement, has been found in Madison's tapwater (at very low levels). So the buried cement, and slurry dumped onto the ground, may be slowly making its way into the groundwater. Also, with more time, we're finding out health problems we didn't know about before.

Concrete is made when you add relatively harmless sand and/or gravel to cement. Concrete is only about 15% cement. So pure cement dust (before it becomes concrete) is the most toxic of all.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
Let them know how you feel about toxic dust next to schools
(Share your call experience by making a comment below.)

Doug Voegeli, Director of Environmental Health Division 243-0360  dvoegeli@publichealthmdc.com 

City official responsible for enforcing erosion control at this site
Tim Troester, 267-1995  ttroester@cityofmadison.com
Follow inspections here.  This site (as of 10/9) had not been inspected since 9/12.

Alder for this district, Mark Clear, 695-5709, District19@cityofmadison.com

James Madison Memorial High School, Bruce Dahmen, Principal. 663- 5990.

Tri-North Builders  Overall contractor. Tri-North has a history of poor compliance with erosion-control regulations.

Mark Butteris of Tri-North  271-8717 mbutteris@tri-north.com
He did the last erosion control self-inspection of 9/12. He found the gravel tracking pads (which prevent dust on streets) "ineffective" at that time.  When I visited the site on 9/27, one of the main pads was still ineffective (missing or buried--see right).  There is much that we like about erosion control at this site, but the dust control (especially cement) at this windy site is a disaster. By 10/9, no additional inspections have been posted here, even though there was rain of 1.09 inches on Sept 26 (Middleton).  Inspections are mandated after every storm of 1/2 in or more.

Corner Stone Construction Masonry Contractors, Janesville.  608-758-4005. There's a sign for this firm onsite, but we're not sure if they are the ones operating the mixers.

#          #          #

Photos: Overview of cement mixing abuse at three locations in Madison.
Complete photos of Tri-North Construction site at Grand Canyon & Mineral Point roads, with commentary.
Photos: Toxic sludge in your neighborhood's gutter.


UW student group cleans up Wingra Creek

On September 29, a UW student group called "Clean Up Wingra Creek" turned out from 8-10 am.


Lake Wingra has a "Sister Lake" in Massachusetts

What if you had a chance to go back in time, to protect Lake Wingra, or Lake Mendota, before it became polluted?   Fantasy?  No...

Today, you have a chance to do just that... by protecting a pristine lake that looks like Lake Wingra did in 1850.

Hawksnest Pond today...
prinstine water, because the shore is perfectly preserved.

Lake Wingra has a "sister pond" in Massachusetts.  It's called Hawksnest Pond.  Hawksnest State Park is so neglected and abused it doesn't even have an official sign.


The Power of a Pond

Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden during his two-year stay in a tiny shack on the shores of the pond. It became a best-seller when his literary friends promoted it after his untimely death. As Thoreau gained a worldwide following for his environmental philosophy, the pond itself became a celebrity.

Now people are loving the pond to death. It receives 700,000 visitors a year, who come to worship Thoreau’s legacy, or just to swim in one of the few freshwater ponds near Boston.


Sustainability at the UW in Madison

When I attended the recent New Urbanism conference at Monona Terrace on June 4, the UW had a display there, boasting about its sustainability

That was a new one for me... so I decided to look into it.

Glacier under Mt. Walker survives into June

Mt. Walker hides a remnant of ice, under a mantle of garbage.

Question: Where can you still find winter ice in Madison?
Answer: Under scenic Mt. Walker, on the west end of Campus.


Work on Secret Pond reconstrution begins

Eroded channel of Manitou Creek, a bit upstream of Secret Pond. More photos

Update 6/21:  According to Steve Glass, the project has begun with a misstep.  The project's Chapter 30 permit requires that the heavy equipment coming to the project be clean of soil, to avoid introducing invasive species.  The first bulldozer to arrive was dirty.

Below is a letter sent to residents by Gary A. Brown, Director, Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture:

2011 summer solstice bonfire--a perfect evening

See all the photos here.

It was a perfect balmy summer evening--dew on the air, fireflies coming out. As I approached the park, wood smoke wafted my way.

From the edge of the park on Glenway St., a freshly mulched path plunged into the darkness. There were a few candles along the path, and in the distance, a bonfire flickered. Chords of a guitar hung faintly in the air.

Although it was 10:00 pm, only 10 people remained at the bonfire. A tornado warning had put a dent in attendance.

In Scandinavia, the idea is to have a bonfire to celebrate the midnight sun--then sing, drink, and talk into the small hours of morning. I guess there weren't enough Scandinavians present (despite the memory of Jens Jensen).
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This year's event was organized by Peter Nause and other members of the DMNA Parks Committee.


Comments on City plans to control Japanese knotweed

The following comments were sent by Steve Glass, Restoration Ecologist at the UW Arboretum.  He will soon post additional comments on his blog, WingraSprings.


Not sustainable--the construction industry in Madison

Recently, the American Lung Association named Madison as one of the most polluted cities in the nation from particle pollution--dust and smoke.

There's construction all over downtown Madison.  Dust is being tracked onto streets every day, and is being blown out of construction sites on windy days.

Covering sources of dust

Findorff site before covering, & after. Click to enlarge.


City requests proposals for control of invasive plants

On June 3, the City Engineering Division requested proposals from landscapers for control of invasive plants.  An informational meeting will be held at the work locations on June 17, to answer contractor's questions, and bids are due on June 28. The project is being managed by Glenn Clark.  Details.


It's getting harder to find sites for new city wells

During a recent exploration of unseen Madison spots, I had a chance to find out how hard it is to protect groundwater and find new well sites.

As Madison grows, we need more wells. As more areas become contaminated, wells have to be abandoned, and there are fewer places where you can put a new well.

Exploring an old landfill--now home to Terra

Early last spring, when I found myself on the east side of town, I decided to explore the woods by the state offices at the end of Agriculture Rd.

There was a nice path, but I quickly came to a huge dump.  Part of it was capped (imperfectly), and part was still receiving construction debris and snow removed from parking lots.

Salvaged concrete blocks were piled into mountains. 


Groundwater at Odana exceeds standards for salt

The Cogeneration plant on the west side of the UW campus is allowed to withdraw large amounts of water from Lake Mendota, based on a complicated swap agreement with DNR.

That agreement called for an infiltration field at the Odana Hills Golf Course, where up to 60 million gallons a year of stormwater are pumped into the soil.  Background.

One of the problems with this agreement is that the water being pumped into the soil is rather salty, due to overuse of road salt in the area. Several test wells in the area show levels of salt over the Enforcement Standard.  In other words, the groundwater is starting to become polluted with salt.

A trek to Secret Pond

The morning after a storm, three adventurers head into the wetlands of Lake Wingra, looking for the legendary "Secret Pond."

After more than two hours of soggy hiking, Gordon Heingartner said:
"I think my feet are beginning to rot!"

To be continued...
In the meantime, you can see more photos here.


Contractors--one cause of bad air in Dane County

Dust lofting from Findorff* site in downtown Madison.
Note concrete waste, right center.

The American Lung Association gave the Madison area** a failing grade for particle pollution in the air.  That's right, an "F."

Originally reported on WISC-TV, I decided to delve a little deeper.  It was hard to believe that little old Madison, the city of blue lakes, could be so polluted.

But it's true.  Here's what I found.


Study finds poor air quality in Madison

American Lung Association said the Madison area is one of the worst places* in the country for particle pollution in the air, according to a new study.

Dust from Findorff construction site, near Kohl Center, 6/3/11.

The Odana infiltration project

A complicated way of doing a simple thing

 A “Rube Goldberg” machine is an impossibly complicated device that does a simple task. Rube himself was an engineer, who celebrated the spirit of invention with his cartoons. There was always some implausible step that guaranteed failure in the real world.

Cartoon by Rube Goldberg. He was an engineer.

 In Madison, we are honored to have one of the largest Rube Goldberg machines in the state, hidden away in an out-of-the way corner of Odana Golf Course. But this complex machine sends its strings, pipes, wells, and band aids all over the City and beyond.

While this machine is indeed complex--it sometimes works.  And it was conceived with the best intentions--to safeguard the environment and the public water supply.


Japanese knotweed invades the bike path

Madison has a BIG problem with Japanese knotweed along the Southwest Bike Path.  It's a big weed--standing up to 9 feet tall--and a big patch, extending over a mile along the bikeway.  It's an invader from eastern Asia, and very aggressive.  It forms dense stands that crowd out most other vegetation.

Left: Large knotweed plants. Center: re sprouting quickly after being mowed.
A sinister plant...

A recent article in Science describes the plant as "sinister"and "a Goliath"--strong words for the usually staid magazine.  "What makes this plant so menacing is its ability to grow through solid concrete foundations, forcing contractors to abandon infested building sites.  In England alone, about a half-million homes are uninsurable, and in the UK, damages and removal cost $288 million a year."


Find out about "Take a Stake in the Lakes"

"Join your friends and neighbors in helping Dane County lakes, rivers, and streams now and for future generations by being a part of the Take a Stake in the Lakes Days 2011.  Clean up a shoreline, plant a rain garden, paddle to work, congratulate a Waters Champion.

With just a click here, you can learn more about important and exciting activities awaiting you and your family."

Free paddling event for kids on Lake Wingra

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Voyageur canoe (left) on Monona Bay, 2010.

Parents--bring your kids for a paddle on Lake Wingra.  We'll paddle twin 11-passenger Voyageur canoes that are very stable for young participants.

Children must be accompanied by a parent and be at least 5 years old. The free event will be lead by Sue Josheff from DNR. Floatation vests and paddles will be provided.

There are two departure times--you may register for the first or second departure by sending the parent and child paddlers' names to:
susan.josheff@wisconsin.gov.  Please indicate child's age. You will receive an email confirmation, or notification if the event is canceled due to weather.

Schedule of events

9:00 am - First Voyage paddlers meet
9:15 - 10:15 am (or until kids lose interest) - First voyage
10:15 am Second voyage paddlers meet
10:30 - 11:30 am (or until kids lose interest) - Second voyage

Meet at the Wingra Park Boat Landing, at the end of Knickerbocker St.  Map.

Thanks to Sue Josheff


A ramble down Nautilus Point Park greenway


A greenway runs north from Nautilus Point Park, opposite Oakwood Village on Madison's West Side. It surrounds and protects a small stream that runs between Island Drive and Nautilus Drive.

Trillium spectacle west of Madison !

About  5 miles SW of Cross Plains, there's an amazing spectacle of wild trillium flowers in the woods.  It's located on the south side of Moen Valley Rd.  Map.  I've never seen so many trillium in my life!


Fish Kill observed at Odana Pond, vultures feast

Spring runoff from urban areas is so salty that it's toxic to fish.

On April 1, six carp were found dead next to one of the ponds in Odana Hills Golf Course.  Eleven vultures were loitering about, having finished with all the carp reachable from shore (vultures don't swim).


Prairie burns set for Westmorland Area in April

During the first half of April, volunteers helped burn several small prairies on the West Side of Madison:


Overuse of de-icing salt by Madison business

Contamination by salt has been steadily increasing in our lakes, groundwater, and drinking water. Several of Madison's wells already show levels of salt that cause concern.   The levels of salt we're already seeing in lakes and streams are enough to kill aquatic life.

West Washington Av.


UW lake scientist receives world's top water prize

"Noted University of Wisconsin-Madison limnologist Stephen Carpenter has been awarded the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize, the world's most prestigious award for water-related activities...."

The announcement was made in Stockholm on March 22.



Algae bloom slowed recovery from mass extinction, aeons ago

Most people around Madison are familiar with the idea that when you "over fertilize" our lakes with nutrients like phosphorus, it causes an algae bloom.  First the lake turns green-- then the algae run out of food and die.  Often fish die, because all the oxygen gets used up when the algae rots.

I've reported before how you can get algae blooms in the ocean.  These, too, sometimes cause die-offs.  For example, there's the "infamous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico created by farm runoff carried down the Mississippi River."

The mother of all algae blooms

A scientist at Stanford University, Katja Meyer, has been studying the Earth's largest period of extinction, which happened 250,000 years ago.  It's cause hasn't been pinned down for sure, but it may have been caused by a period of massive lava flows, which belched poisonous gasses and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Restore funds in State budget for recycling

More trash in dumps?  Not a good idea.

Governor Walker's budget bill aims to eliminate state recycling requirements and cut funding for recycling to local municipalities.  But that's a really bad idea.