Clean Lakes Alliance expanding its monitoring network for Yahara Lakes

Clean Lakes Alliance, an environmental nonprofit-based in Madison, is expanding its monitoring network through new research and volunteer mobilization.

Representatives of this group addressed about 80 people at the Edgewater Hotel yesterday morning for its Yahara Lakes 101 event. They discussed findings of current research being done at the lakes around the Madison area as well as the coming push to support the partially volunteer-based monitoring program.

Their program focuses on two principal measures of water quality: water clarity and blue-green algal blooms.

“We’re focusing on these two things because they are conditions that might cause you to not want to use the beach, or go find a better spot on the lake,” said Justin Chenevart, Clean Lakes Alliance researcher and UW-Madison grad. “They have to do a lot with the first goal of the program, which is delivering that information as quickly as possible so that people can make an informed decision about what beach to visit.”

This information is delivered to the public through, where indicators for water quality can be viewed for all of the Yahara lakes at once.

“These are also conditions that can tell us a lot about the ecological health of the lake, which gets at the second goal of the program,” said Chenevart.

This second goal is to provide a “longer-term, long-reviewed data set,” according to Chenevart. Data can then be shared with other scientists and researchers, and can help generate more complex questions about the causes of blue-green algal blooms, which can be toxic.

“That’s probably my favorite thing about the program—that it’s great for the immediate, but it’s also creating this data set that’s going to be very, very useful over the coming years,” said Chenevart.

This data comes in part from volunteer monitors who submit their data to the site. Most monitoring for the lakes is divided into two categories: nearshore and offshore.

Nearshore monitoring is performed by wading out into thigh-high water from the shore and testing the water with a simple tool called a turbidity tube, which gives a standardized measurement for clarity.

Offshore monitoring, however, requires a boat and a device called a Secchi disk. This measurement tool is an 8-inch wide disk that is lowered to great depth, usually at the deepest point in the lake, until the black and white coloring of the disk is no longer distinguishable.

“We had volunteers that went out to the deep hole of all five lakes this summer, sampling for water clarity, adding to information that’s already provided by UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology and long-term ecological research,” said Katie Nicholas, another UW-Madison alum researcher.

Offshore monitoring is one of the newest programs, and was only instated summer of 2016. As a result of this and other research methods, the number of monitoring stations around the Yahara lakes has increased by 36 percent over last year.

“We are trying to help track the holistic lake conditions by having volunteers going out on a weekly basis. This is the first time that we have citizen monitoring all of our lakes,” said Nicholas. “That helps to bolster sampling at those sites.”

Chenevart also said that after a few more years of monitoring and expanding the network of water-testers, the 4-year old Clean Lakes Alliance will have much more information to analyze and share with university researchers.

“I can show you three years, 2014 to 2016, it doesn’t tell you a whole lot yet. But think about 10 years, think about 15 years from now when we’ve been doing this every single year. Then we can start to ask pointed questions about what’s causing the patterns we see,” said Chenevart. “That’s when it really becomes valuable.”

Follow this link to volunteer for the program:

–By Alex Moe,