Lake Mendota Run off





Madison’s Lake Mendota has been home to urban and agricultural runoff called non-point pollution, for many years. The effects from this runoff can be seen and smelled when around the lake, or for that matter, among all the lakes of the Yahara Watershed; including, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa, Lake Kegonsa, and Lake Wingra, respectively.
The Winnebego Indian name for Lake Mendota is Wonk-shek-ho-mik-la, meaning, “Where the man lies,” while the Prairie Potawatomi named the lake Manto-ka, meaning, “Snake maker,” referring to the early abundance of rattlesnakes along the lake’s shoreline, in earlier years. The name Mendota was actually given to the lake in 1949 by a man named Frank Hudson, whom was a local land surveyor; actually, Mendota is a Sioux Indian name meaning, “The mouth of the river,” because it feeds the rest of the lakes in the Yahara Watershed. And before Lake Mendota was given the name Mendota, people referred to the lake as the Fourth Lake (1).
Back in 1829, James Duane Doty traveled through Madison’s Isthmus and was so pleased with what he saw he decided to buy 1,200 acres of the land for $1,500. At this time he plotted out all of the roads surrounding the Isthmus, in which he later named after the signers of the United States Constitution. After deciding the name Madison from the fourth President of The United States, James Madison, Doty convinced the territorial legislature to designate (his) Madison as the site for a new capital. At this time, Madison became more and more populated and with that came more farming, logging and industrialization (3).
Since the evolution of Madison, more and more farmers and businesses were planted in the area. This, of course, was good for the city’s economy; however, bad for Madison’s lakes; including Lake Mendota. In these earlier years Lake Mendota was used for industrial dumping and release of sewage, which added nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen to the water among other pollutants, not especially good for the lake’s waters (2). This proved to be a threat to the waters of Lake Mendota, but not as big of a threat as the natural run off coming from the streets and yards and fields of farmers and gardeners. Madison’s Isthmus is the highest point of the whole city with the lakes Wingra, Monona and Mendota beneath them. So, rainwater and snowmelt would flow across the land and pick up soil particles, organic wastes, fertilizers, and other pollutants and carried them to surface or groundwater (7a.). This, over-abundance of nutrients in lakes causes what is known as algae blooms. Algae feed off of the nutrients and grow (bloom) at a rapid rate. They grow so fast, in fact, they can eat up most of the available oxygen and sunlight, leaving other organisms to suffocate or become to shy to survive from a lack of a good tan (6). Actually the algae grow, multiply and then die and when they decompose it leaves a nasty scent behind, hardly hiding the stench of the huge amounts of dead fish that appear at the surface of the waters (2). Fish kills from algae blooms have been reported in Madison back in 1931, 1946 and even in more recent years (1).
The first recorded problem with algae and algae blooms in Madison was in 1882 (1). Summers shortly after, the lake turned clear again, so nothing was done until the algae blooms occurred again in the summer of 1946, also creating a major fish kill problem. In 1947, the Lake Mendota Association was formed by a group of individuals, including Aldo Leopold. The Association was formed because of the noticeably worsening conditions of Lake Mendota throughout the years. Nasty odors of dying perch on the shore and decomposing algae in the water finally became too much for people to bear. Madison finally became concerned with correcting the algae problem in Lake Mendota, when they realized the city would need a portion of the lakes water for its domestic water supply (4).
One of the first hopes of a solution the Lake Mendota Association tried was spraying copper sulphate on the water. The copper would settle to the bottom of the water and act as an inhibitor of rooted weed growth. The copper