Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force Tackles Water Quality Improvement

August 04, 2017
Sharon Corrigan, Chair 608.333.2285
County Board

Hoping to provide a forum for agricultural and environmental interests, the Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force has launched an ambitious effort to implement lasting solutions to nagging water quality problems in Dane County.


“This is called Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes because both our farms and our lakes are important to the future of the county,” Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan told the group at its first meeting this week.


The HFHL Task Force -- which includes farmers, scientists, clean lake advocates and elected officials – hopes to dramatically reduce the amount of nutrient-rich material that ends up causing excessive weed growth and dangerous algae blooms in local waterways.


This summer saw the worst algae bloom here in 25 years, which has forced numerous beach closings and resulted in major fish kills. Many residents are now reluctant to swim in the lakes or allow their dogs near the water.


Corrigan said she has grown frustrated with lake water quality challenges despite the considerable resources to institute practices that reduce farm runoff such as feed lot roofs, cover crops, harvestable buffers and manure digesters.


“While urban impacts like construction-site erosion, lawn fertilizer and tree leaves contribute to the problem, there is little dispute that the major source of contamination remains runoff from agricultural operations,” said Corrigan, who grew up on a livestock farm.


The HFHL group will meet monthly with the goal of finishing a detailed report in 2018. Any policy recommendations would then go to the County Board for final consideration and approval.


County Board Supervisor Mary Kolar was elected chair of the HFHL and Dave Fahey of Yahara Pride Farms was elected vice chair at the initial meeting Wednesday.


“I’m excited about getting this group of experts together so we can make some real progress on cleaning up the lakes,” said Kolar, whose district in downtown Madison sits between lakes Mendota and Monona.


The goals of the HFHL Task Force include:

  • Creating a greater community understanding of the best practices and policies for managing farmland

  • Making recommendations to the County Board regarding county policy

  • Making recommendations on how to develop a cost-sharing proposal for capital investments directed at phosphorus reduction in the watershed.

  • Having a report completed and ready for action in late 2018


“We’ve made great progress over the past decade but challenges like severe rain events, invasive species, and development are going to require greater innovation and commitment from government, agriculture and our community all working together to make lasting improvements to water quality,” she said. “Progress comes through understanding and sharing of perspectives and this Task Force will provide that forum.”