Many residents of Dane County remember the torrential flooding which swept through entire neighborhoods in 2018, resulting in over 100 million dollars in damage to property and left one person dead.
At a press conference this morning, at a small farm outside of McFarland, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced a new phase to the ongoing “Suck the Muck” efforts to reduce the chance of future severe flooding.
Behind him, rolling prairie hills speckled with autumn trees, a reminder of just how large the “Suck the Muck” efforts stretch.
Upon taking the podium, Parisi announced the purchase of 128 acres of land, totaling $925,000. This parcel of land is located near the Town of Dunn, and will be the staging ground for the most ambitious phase of wetland restoration and flood control since 2018. This new phase will focus on phosphorus and sediment removal from the Door Creek watershed area, constructing additional flood storage and Spring spawning habitats for fish, and enhancing the quality of wetland plants in the area.
Flood storage areas are excavated stretches of land that can help regulate water levels during heavy rainfall, by directing excess water away from natural water outlets such as streams and lakes. The new land purchase will be the site of new flood storage areas and expand wildlife habitats nearby.
The Door Creek Watershed area encompasses around 1,000 acres of wetlands which feed into lakes across the county, and which contain some of the largest sediment and phosphorus deposits in the entire Yahara chain of lakes.
The phosphorus deposits found in the watershed areas are a key ingredient in the formation of algae, which can block the flow of water into and out of lakes. This blockage can cause water levels to rise, especially after heavy rainfalls like those in August of 2018.
Removing these phosphorus deposits, along with other sediment blocking the water flow through the Yahara Lakes, is crucial to prevent future flooding.
“We can pipe the sediment, and usually what we do is use it as part of restoration efforts. We spread it- we seed it over, usually throw prairie on top of it, and that sequesters the phosphorus that’s in that soil so that it’s no longer available to run off when it rains. And so that will be all part of our continuing effort, not only to de-water, and dispose of the sludge, but to do it in a way that enhances our efforts to revitalize the area,” said Parisi.
To date, 180,000 pounds of phosphorus and 56 thousand pounds of muck have been dredged from the Yahara Lakes chain. Parisi says the results are showing, with a constant reduction in the amount of phosphorous run-off and phosphorous-laden muck.
Despite the strides made in both preventing future flooding and restoring wildlife and wetland habitats, changing weather patterns could alter the effectiveness of “Suck the Muck.”
“Frankly, with the changing climate, we’re having many more heavy rain events that sometimes counter some of our efforts because we have to deal with all of that runoff. So that’s why in addition to things like ‘Suck the Muck’, we’re investing heavily in things like prairie restoration,” said Parisi.
But changing climate and weather conditions aren’t the only things that environmental planners have to take into account. The threat of spreading invasive species is also a concern, but ecological experts have a plan for that too. says Kyle Minks with the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department.
“We’re looking at identifying the different plant communities that are out there, especially invasive plant communities, and we want to be cognizant as we’re doing our planning to make sure we don’t spread those invasive species to the best of our ability — even though we know that there’s a lot of natural processes that will carry invasives throughout the system,” says Kyle Minks, with the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department.
Minks adds that in addition to this new stage of the “Suck the Muck” effort, they’re investigating other avenues for flood storage.
2 million dollars have been included in the 2023 budget for this “Suck the Muck” phase. Planning and environmental studies will be conducted in 2023, with construction beginning in 2024.