August 03, 2018
Sharon Corrigan, 608.333.2285
County Board

Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force finalizes yearlong effort


Looking to reduce farm runoff that impairs the Yahara Lakes watershed, a Dane County panel has unanimously approved a sweeping series of policy recommendations aimed at reducing phosphorus pollution while encouraging better agricultural conservation practices.


The Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force features a mix of farmers, government representatives and members of advocacy groups such as the Clean Lakes Alliance, Yahara Lakes Association and Yahara Pride Farms, as well as UW scientists, researchers and educators. It's the first attempt to bring all stakeholders together to reach a solution on a nagging issue that has befuddled policy makers for decades.


The Task Force on Wednesday finalized wording and agreed on eight specific goals designed to foster improved manure management along with other measures to improve water quality.


“The lakes are one of our greatest assets but the ability to enjoy these waters in the future depends on further reducing the amount of pollutants that continue to flow into the Yahara Lakes Watershed," said Task Force Chair Supervisor Mary Kolar (District 1, Downtown Madison).


Dane County is one of the largest dairy producing regions in the nation, with 55,000 cows on 260 different farms producing over 1.4 billion pounds of milk in 2015. But phosphorus from livestock waste and chemical fertilizers are a leading cause of excess weed growth and dangerous algae blooms in the Madison chain of lakes.


The recommendations -- which now move to the Dane County Board for final approval – include implementation of state agricultural performance standards at the local level.  The agricultural performance standards include:

  • Tillage setback: No tillage operations may be conducted within 5 feet of the top of the channel of surface waters.

  • Manure storage facilities: All new, substantially altered, or abandoned manure storage facilities shall be constructed, maintained or abandoned in accordance with accepted standards. Failing and leaking existing facilities posing an imminent threat to public health or fish and aquatic life or violate groundwater standards shall be upgraded or replaced.

  • Nutrient management: Agricultural operations applying nutrients to agricultural fields shall do so according to a nutrient management plan.

The goals approved Wednesday are designed to encourage existing initiatives such as the Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan, and Yahara WINS while supporting new programs to foster better management practices. The recommendations do not include any taxes or penalties on farm owners but call for considering new revenue sources to cover the cost of any new programs.


“Dane County has invested millions of dollars and made great progress on cleaning up the lakes, but we know that our current plans are insufficient to meet the phosphorus reductions we need.  Collaboration with our agricultural partners to further reduce runoff is essential,” said Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan (District 26, Middleton). “The recommendations from the Task Force put us on track to get there.”


The recommendations also call for improved conservation practices and voluntary local standards that can be promoted by farmer-led groups such as Yahara Pride Farms. Other recommendations urge expansion of cover cropping, nutrient management plans, no-till planting and other cropland conservation systems.


"While most of us enjoy dairy products, we need to remember that for every pound of milk produced, over two pounds of manure is produced," said Supervisor Kolar. "We need to do better at keeping that manure out of our watershed."


The Task Force began meeting in July 2017 and may meet in the future as the recommendations work their way through the County Board. Details and agendas are available at (https://board.countyofdane.com/Healthy-Farms-Healthy-Lakes-Task-Force).


The eight goals approved Wednesday are:

1 -- Actively support and encourage conservation efforts by farmer-led groups and watershed organizations to improve nutrient management and reduce nonpoint source runoff from farms.

2 -- Enforce reasonable management regulations at the local level by adopting state agricultural performance standards into county ordinance as a complement to the state agricultural prohibitions already in county ordinance. 

3 -- Improve the use of manure nutrients and prevent nutrient losses through improved manure management.

4 -- Improve soil and water quality through the expansion, adoption, and implementation of nutrient management plans along with the development and maintenance of a tracking database.

5 -- Continue to support, implement, and evaluate the Yahara CLEAN Strategic Action Plan and other Yahara watershed water quality efforts. 

6 -- Develop and implement programs that aid in the preservation of agricultural land. 

7 -- Expand implementation of conservation practices through streamlined cost-share program administration, new program development and improved promotion of opportunities. 

8 -- Develop large scale watershed analyses to identify and prioritize high risk areas for phosphorus runoff and water quality degradation.