Environmental issues persist after heavy rainfall last summer

With more than three months since the heavy rainfalls hit Madison in August, many of the immediate, visible impacts of flooding in the city have been addressed. However, the potential for future environmental issues still lingers. The first issue is shoreline erosion which can result from ice damage. As winter approaches, there is some potential for adverse impacts to Madison’s shoreline areas as water freezes at higher-than-normal lake levels. According to Richard “Dick” Lathrop, a former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employee and current honorary fellow with the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Limnology, ice damage to shorelines is one outcome likely to occur when lakes freeze before water recedes to normal winter levels.

August rainfall caused citywide flooding, but high lake levels threaten more

In late August, significant rainfall pummeled Madison, causing flooding throughout the city, damaging infrastructure and private residences, and costing the city millions of dollars. According to a report by Daniel Wright, assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at UW-Madison, the amount of rain that fell on the Yahara watershed was by no means historical. Rather, Wright wrote, it fell around a 30 year recurrence interval, meaning “over the course of a 30-year mortgage, a homeowner will, on average, experience one storm similar in magnitude.”

The four inches of rain that fell across the lakes produced a 100-year flood event in Madison due to the high lake levels of Lakes Monona, Mendota, Waubesa and Kegonsa — especially Lake Mendota. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources set the minimum and maximum lake levels in 1979. The storm on August 20 caused the lake levels to rise well above their minimums and 100-year flood levels.

Volunteers endure rain during Madison Parks’ cleanup challenge, while officials brace for ice damage due to high lake levels

Madison residents braved rainy and wet conditions in early November to take part in the Flood Clean-up Challenge hosted by the City of Madison Parks Division. The event, which took place at 11 different parks in Madison, addressed the impact of the flooding that occured in the city over the summer. With the gradual recession of flood waters since mid-September, many parks situated along shorelines in the city were left with debris, trash, and large swaths of seaweed on their beaches, which had been washed ashore during the flooding. In response, the Madison Parks Division developed a cleanup plan that relied, in part, on volunteers. “I was really taken with the opportunity to volunteer for the city [and] to clean it up,” said Emily Reynolds, one of the volunteers who came to help with the effort.

City Engineering plans to track flood damage with new website

The City of Madison recently launched a new website to report storm-related problems following the historic flooding in late August. More than 10 inches of rain fell on Madison over the course of eight hours on August 20. Immediate flash flooding occurred, and Madison’s lakes swelled to historic highs. Lake Mendota rose 16 inches, and Lake Monona rose more than 10 inches above it’s record elevation. Some areas of the city saw five-feet deep flood waters.

Madison toward 100 percent renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions

A resolution was adopted in July at a City Council meeting that will transition Madison to a 100 percent renewable energy. Madison is one of three Wisconsin municipalities that adopted a 100% renewable energy goal. The other cities are Eau Claire and Middleton. In 2017, Madison established a community-wide energy and carbon goal of 100 percent renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions, and the city selected Sustainable Engineering Group LLC to provide a plan for city operations to achieve goals of 100 percent renewable energy and net-zero carbon. The resolution allowed the city to enter a contract with OneEnergy Renewables, an independent developer of community and utility-scale solar energy projects across North America, with a focus on commercial, institutional and utility customers, for the annual purchase and sale of renewable energy credits (REC) from 2019 to 2023.

Health Department Offers Free Private Well Testing To Dane County Residents

Public Health Madison & Dane County is offering free private well water testing to impacted Dane County residents following last week’s floods. Torrential rains flooded many parts of west Madison and Dane county last week, causing both Gov. Scott Walker and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi to declare states of emergency. In response, Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC), a local health department run by Dane County, announced Monday that it is teaming up with the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and Wisconsin Department of Health Services to offer free and expanded testing services to private well owners affected by the floods. “We want to make water testing for well owners hit hardest by the flooding as easy as possible for folks,” said Doug Voegeli, Environmental Health Director for PHMDC. “Doing this testing is crucial for making sure that your water is safe since drinking water contaminated with bacteria can cause illness.”

There are approximately 23,000 private wells in Dane County, and PHMDC estimates that about 10,000 private wells are in or near areas impacted by the floods.

Compost program paused, not over, says City recycling coordinator

Despite Madison’s compost pilot program coming to an end last month due to contamination issues, the City hopes to restart the program in 2019. The program, officially called the organics collection program but can more accurately be understood as a food scraps recycling program, began in 2011 to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill. The program had to stop because too many participants, which included residents and businesses, were putting non-compostable items in compost bins, thus contaminating the compostable material. “This isn’t over,” said Bryan Johnson, the Recycling Coordinator for the City of Madison Streets Division. “The program, the way we had it, wasn’t working with the processing options that were available to us.

Wisconsin Utility Companies Invest in Alternative Energy

The future is getting brighter for wind and solar energy in the Midwest. Two Madison-based power companies, Alliant Energy Corporation and Madison Gas and Electric (MGE), have recently invested in clean energy sources that will affect thousands of customers across the Midwest. Alliant and MGE are investing in wind and solar energy, respectively. Wisconsin Public Service of Green Bay will also invest in solar energy alongside MGE. Alliant has partnered with Tradewind Energy, an independent renewable power developer to bring English Farms Wind Farm to completion.

Media Digest June 15, 2018

Top Story

Paul Soglin will propose a $17 vehicle-registration fee to help close budget shortfalls and maintain community service programs for low-income residents. Chris Rickert, Wisconsin State Journal, 6/15. Community

The Dane County Immigration and Refugee Task Force, created last summer, announced its recommendations, including a call for a universal drivers' card.  Madison 365, 6/15. The James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Church on Madison's eastside is renovating its building to serve as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

Madison’s changing lakes

Climate change is about more than temperature change. For University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor Hilary Dugan, the bigger concern with changing climate revolves around Madison’s lakes and rainfall. Dugan, who teaches within UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology, said there are projections that Wisconsin’s rainfalls are going to come in bigger storms. Instead of storms with two inches of rain, a storm may drop four or five inches. There won’t necessarily be an increase in the number of storms she added. With larger rainstorms, comes more landscape material being washed into the rivers and lakes Dugan said.