Yahara Portal

Explore the legacy and future of the Yahara Lakes and Watershed

What is a watershed?

A watershed is the land area that drains into a downstream waterbody. All watersheds are living, breathing systems full of interrelationships that connect soil, water, plants and animals to each other. The living parts of a watershed range from tiny plants and animals in the lakes that support large and small fish to the rich soil that allow plants and crops to grow. Because of all of the interrelationships, watersheds are complex systems that can be healthy or fragile depending on the balance between the individual parts.

What is the Yahara Watershed?

When rain falls, it can sink into the ground, evaporate, be taken up by plants or crops, or run off the land and end up in a stream, wetland or one of the lakes. The direct drainage areas are called subwatersheds; several subwatersheds together are a watershed, and several watersheds together are a basin.

There are three subwatersheds that combine to make up the Yahara Watershed because they are all connected through the Yahara River. They are the Lake Mendota Watershed; the Lakes Monona and Waubesa Watershed; and the Lake Kegonsa Watershed.

The Yahara Watershed is part of a very large drainage area known as the Lower Rock River Basin. Five lakes comprise the Lower Rock River Basin: Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Wingra, Lake Waubesa, and Lake Kegonsa. Lake Mendota is the northern-most lake and flows into Lake Monona through the Yahara River. Lake Wingra also flows into the western end of Lake Monona. Lake Monona flows into Upper Mud Lake which drains to Lake Waubesa. Finally, Lake Waubesa flows into Lake Kegonsa via Lower Mud Lake and the Yahara River.

The Rock River eventually flows into the Mississippi River in Illinois. It is possible to float a boat all the way from the Yahara Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico!

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