Yahara Portal

Explore the legacy and future of the Yahara Lakes and Watershed

Yahara Watershed Timeline

A Yahara Watershed Timeline

Year

Event

1836

Territory of Wisconsin established; legislature convenes in Belmont

1836

Madison founded by former federal judge James Duane Doty, who purchased over a thousand acres of swamp and forest land on the isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona within the Four Lakes region, with the intention of building a city on the site

1837

Cornerstone of state capitol laid

1838

Legislature met in Madison

1846

Madison incorporated as a village; population 626

1848

Wisconsin statehood

1849

First Tenney Park dam installed; Lake Mendota water level raised five feet

1850

Federal "Swamp Acts" in 1849, 1850 and 1860 gave title to three million acres of swamp land to Wisconsin to be "improved”

1852

First Wisconsin drainage law passed

1854

First railroad comes to Madison

1855

Wisconsin Legislature approved current names of the Yahara lakes, changed from the 1834 names of First Lake (Kegonsa), Second Lake (Waubesa), Third Lake (Monona) and Fourth Lake (Kegonsa)

1856

Madison incorporated as a city; population 6,863

1865

UW-Madison student population around 300

1866

Indoor "water closet" installed at state capitol (replaces a brick privy); sewage is piped directly to Lake Monona

1870

Lake Mendota watershed under full agricultural production

1870

Residential "water closets" installed and connected to private sewers which mostly drain directly to Lake Monona

1878

Madison editorial writers noted that directing sewage to lakes was leading to sewage buildup on lake shores

1880

Civic leaders realized discharging sewage into Lake Monona is wrong (situation will not be fully addressed for 80 years)

1880

Private well testing showed 87% of private wells in Madison contaminated by sewage

1880

Madison's population was 10,324

1881

Madison Water Utility established

1882

First blue-green algae bloom noted in Lake Mendota

1885

UW-Madison student population around 500

1885

Madison established a sewer system based on 26 "districts," each of which drained into either Lake Mendota or Monona

1886

Carp introduced into Yahara Lakes

1890

Lake Monona received majority of Madison sewage (untreated)

1891

First drainage district law passed, allowing for creation of special-purpose districts to drain lands

1894

UW-Madison started limnology research on Lake Mendota

 

1895

Two Madison landowners and the city of Monona sued Madison over raw sewage collecting along Lake Monona's shore

1899

Madison's first wastewater treatment plant operated from May 1899 until January 1901.  Located near Yahara River at East Washington Ave, the plant didn't work. 600,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed to Lake Monona daily

1900

Between 1900 and 1919, 800,000 acres of Wisconsin land was included in drainage districts, including in Dane County

1900

UW-Madison student population around 2,000

1901

Madison's second treatment plant, built next to the first, operated until 1914 and consisted of septic tanks with cinder filters

1908

Badfish [Creek] Drainage District organized; expanded later that year

1911

Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that a drainage district could straighten an existing stream

1912

Nine Springs Drainage District formed

1914

Burke sewage treatment plant (consisting of settling tanks and trickle filters) built; effluent discharged into Lake Monona

1915

Madison Public Health Department (MPHD) began experimental treatment of algae blooms with copper sulfate

1915

Starkweather Drainage District formed; expanded in 1917 (site of current Dane County Regional Airport/Truax Field)

1925

MPHD began 25 year study of Yahara chain of lakes due to massive discharge of poorly-treated sewage

1925

MPHD began systematic use of copper sulfate to treat Lake Monona algae blooms

1925

Wisconsin Legislature prohibited organization of new drainage districts

1926

MPHD began using arsenic compounds to kill macrophytes (aquatic plants)

1927

Waunakee sewage system established; discharged to Six-Mile (Waunakee) Creek, which flows to Lake Mendota

1928

First Nine-Springs treatment plant built to treat half of Madison's sewage; discharged upstream from Lake Waubesa

1930

Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) created by judgment of the circuit court for Dane County

1932

Spring Harbor pumping station (now #5) installed, bringing Middleton and Shorewood Hills sewage to MMSD

1934

WI Conservation Department (predecessor to the DNR) began carp removal program on all four lakes

1935

Wisconsin Legislature required colleges, normal schools and high schools to teach conservation education

1936

Expanded MMSD Nine Springs treatment plant treated all Madison sewage; Burke plant not operated

1936

Copper sulfate treatment of algal blooms expanded to Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa

1942

Burke sewage treatment plant operated by U.S. government until 1946

1945

Effect of Madison sewage on water quality in lower lakes (Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa) conclusively proved

1946

Burke sewage treatment plant reverted to MMSD control

1947

Algal blooms in Lake Mendota brought focus to nutrient sources feeding Lake Mendota

1949

MPHD monitoring study (begun in 1925) ended

1949

State law passed prohibiting effluent discharge to Madison lakes

1950

Burke sewage treatment plant rented by Oscar Meyer as effluent pretreatment; operated until 1979

1954

Whole-lake spraying of copper sulfate to control algae blooms ended due to environmental concerns

1958

All MMSD wastewater discharges diverted into Badfish Creek, downstream of the four Yahara lakes

1960s

Eurasian water milfoil invaded the Yahara Lakes

1963

Pumping Station #9 installed, bringing McFarland and surrounding townships' sewage to MMSD

1964

Arsenic treatments to control aquatic plants (begun in 1926) ended

1967

DNR began limited monitoring on Lake Monona

1969

DNR ended carp removal program begun in 1934

1971

Wastewater effluents from upstream communities connected to MMSD, ending effluent discharge into Lake Mendota

1972

Passage of the Federal “Clean Water Act”

1973

DNR began limited monitoring on lakes Waubesa and Kegonsa

1974

MMSD began hauling sludge from storage lagoons to farmers (precursor to the Metrogro program)

1976

USGS began watershed monitoring program on storm sewers and major tributaries

1976

DNR began limited, regular sampling of all four Yahara lakes; ended in 1994

1977

President Jimmy Carter signed executive order declaring protection of wetlands as official U.S. policy and ended all direct federal assistance for wetland conversion

1979

Oscar Meyer ceased operation of Burke sewerage treatment plant; property abandoned and sold

1980

Metrogro biosolids reuse program implemented

1986

Advanced secondary nitrification process and UV disinfection process placed in service

1987

Biomanipulation project began (large predator (muskie, bass, etc.) populations encouraged to reduce planktivorous fish)

1988

Dane County Board creates Lakes and Watershed Commission (LWC)

1989

Wisconsin Legislature defined the LWC's special powers, composition, duties and organization

1990

MMSD sludge storage lagoons placed on the Superfund List due to discovery of PCBs

1991

MMSD commissioned gas utilization facilities for co-generation of power and hot water using digester gas

1994

Metrogro Storage Tanks commissioned; use of sludge storage lagoons discontinued

1994

Three-year inventory phase of Lake Mendota priority Watershed Project began

1994

DNR limnological sampling of Yahara lakes ended (transition to NTL-LTER)

1995

Northern Temperate Lakes - Long Term Ecological Research (NTL-LTER) began on lakes Mendota and Monona

1996

Verona Pumping Station constructed; Verona's Waste Water Treatment Plant abandoned

1996

Biological phosphorus removal process implemented

1997

Lake Mendota Priority Watershed Project began; goal was to reduce P-loading by 50%

1998

Badger Mill Creek effluent return implemented

2000

U.S. Census reported Madison's population as 208,054

2001

Sludge storage lagoon PCB remediation work completed

2002

Upper Yahara River treatment plant site purchased

2004

Biosolids Environmental Management System certified

2006

USGS monitoring data indicated that from 1990-2006, 48% of total P-loading occurred between January and March

2006

USGS monitoring data indicated that from 1990-2006, 28% of total P-loading occurred between April and June

2008

Lake Mendota Priority Watershed Project ended; 50% P reduction goal was not met

2008

Four-agency partnership formed with Dane County, City of Madison, and the Wisconsin state Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalized the Yahara CLEAN (Capital Lakes Environmental Assessment and Needs) partnership

2008

Yahara Lakes Legacy Partnership (YLLP) which included the four partners of Yahara CLEAN, Clean Wisconsin, and Gathering Waters Conservancy, formed to: 1) coordinate the agency effort with those of other groups working on environmental improvements in the watershed, and 2) lay the groundwork for a new public-private partnership to clean up and restore the lakes. 

2008-2010

The YLLP partnership developed a shared vision for lake quality, designed models to assess the sources of nutrients and sediments flowing into the lakes, and assessed causes of bacterial outbreaks at beaches. With this information in hand, they: 1) developed achievable goals; 2) developed needs and priorities for action; 3) advised the community and regulatory agencies on which actions would be most effective, and 4) communicated progress on lake restoration to agencies and the public.

2010

Yahara CLEAN partners released their report (A CLEAN Future for the Yahara Lakes: Solutions for Tomorrow, Starting Today) with recommendations for rehabilitating water quality in the Yahara Lakes watershed

2010

The first community manure digester in the Lake Mendota watershed completed and began operations

2010

Clean Lakes Alliance (CLA) changed from a volunteer entity into a staffed organization

2012

Fourteen priority actions recommended in the “Strand report” to agencies, CLA and community

Sources


Lathrop, R.C. 2007. Perspectives on the eutrophication of the Yahara lakes. Lake and Reserve. Manage. 23:345–365

Madison Metro Sewerage District website, http://www.madsewer.org/History.htm Accessed 13 July 2010

Mollenhoff, David V., Madison, a history of the formative years.  University of Wisconsin Press, 2003

Various wikipedia.org articles, accessed 13 July 2010

Personal communication (Dennis Presser) with Seth McClure, Wisconsin State Drainage Engineer, DATCP