What it will take to clean up the lakes

Recently, the Wisconsin State Journal published an editorial saying it was their priority to clean up our lakes.

It's a nice sentiment, voiced many times before.  But still the lakes are dirty and out of balance.

Clearly its going to take more than an editorial... or a wish.  The problems in our lakes have been very resistant to change.  To understand why, let's compare the situation to your kitchen floor.

Your behavior counts
Queen of Peace Church playground

In the kitchen, most of your mistakes end up on the floor.  If you have messy behaviors--for example your children have food fights--then your kitchen floor gets gooey and unpleasant.

Examples of messy habits that harm the lakes:  Too much salt on your sidewalk.  Too much fertilizer on your lawn.  Allowing rainwater, soil, fertilizer, or leaves to escape your property--and get into the gutter.

Projects for healthy watersheds

And, a good homemaker needs a project to keep the floor clean--like moping it once a week.  Waxing it twice a year.

When it comes to water quality, citizens manage most of the land in the watershed of the lakes.  So most of our mistakes end up in the lakes.  The lakes will never be clean without citizens taking most of the responsibility.  What happens at every downspout, lawn, and sidewalk matters.

Shoveling snow from the sidewalk is a legal duty expected of all homeowners.  Like snow removal, homeowners need to tackle a variety of clean watershed projects I've listed elsewhere.  Fortunately, some of them are a lot more fun than shoveling snow, and get you out to meet your neighbors.


But the job of clean lakes can't be accomplished by citizens alone.

Back to the kitchen.  Imagine a tidy homemaker with a clean floor.  And then, his or her partner invites all 20 construction buddies--into the kitchen for a beer after work.   In they tromp from a construction site across the street with their muddy boots.  It's going to take some "politics" to get them to remove their boots.

The comparison is real.  Construction sites contribute 19% of the phosphorus to our lakes--the nutrient that stimulates the growth of stinky algae.  Over the years, the construction industry has made some improvements--yet the solution remains elusive.

Street reconstruction in 2011 next to Lake Wingra, by Speedway Sand and Gravel

The problem remains because construction sites move around, the industry is highly competitive, citizens are unaware, and government refuses to rigorously enforce the laws, for fear of driving up the cost of public works projects. More reasons.

Citizens have to insist on rigorous enforcement of existing laws, and hold contractors and officials accountable.

The problem of too much de-icing salt on our roads also involves politics.  It's driven by our expectation of perfectly clear roads during our messy winters.  Citizens can help by becoming informed, changing their expectations, slowing down, and keeping up the pressure for a solution.

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