Loving Our Lakes

“Simply the best.” When we’re asked about this restaurant, or that TV anchor or that car dealer or this bookstore, “How is it, What do you think?” It is, we say, cutting right to the chase, “simply the best.”

You said it in this issue, 301 times to be exact. The Best. Salons and burgers and landscapers. Stuff we like and stuff we need. And it’s your enthusiasm and loyalty that give us confidence in making the claim. (Well, that and our accounting firm.)

And what’s the best part of Madison? What’s our best feature, our best selling point, our best asset? Ask a visitor or a one-time resident, and more times than not the answer will be “the lakes.” We have an abundance of lovely qualities and enviable attributes, but the glistening jewels that surround our homes, parks and businesses somehow root themselves in our memories as images of such beauty and meaning that they define us. For many years this magazine has promoted the protection and enhancement of the health and welfare of our waters, lakes, rivers and streams, and there’s no end in sight. Our late editor, Brian Howell, championed Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk’s effort to ban phosphorus. He was right, and she was right, and it’s working. And it’s long overdue that we ask, “What’s next?”

Not of government necessarily. The city, county and university have added resources, instituted new rules and programs, and raised the visibility of water management and lake protection. And with the successful implementation of the Council of Governments, area towns, villages and suburbs have joined together in unprecedented cooperation, recognizing the regional nature of our most valuable resource. In fact, at the recent Yahara Lakes Conference on the future of the Yahara Lakes, the spirit of collaboration permeated the room of some 200 attendees. It’s the result, said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries manager for Dane County, Kurt Welke, of political traction missing in other communities. It is now, he told us, “all a matter of will.”

And personal responsibility. Recommendations for what we as stewards of the lakes can do to improve our lakes NOW were basically easy to understand and institute. Madison city engineer Larry Nelson advised reducing the total suspended solids in the water that runs into our lakes, i.e., catch the litter and debris. OK, keep the garbage out of the storm sewers. We can do that. Dane County’s Land and Water Resources director, Kevin Connors, counseled reducing runoff that carries soil into our water, and keeping rainwater on our gardens and prairies and in rain barrels so it doesn’t run into the storm sewers. OK, we can build rain gardens. And DNR limnologist Dick Lathrop said manure management is the key. Dairy farmer Jeff Endres noted that it’s costly, but happening more and more. There are ways government can help. So we’ll do all that, agreed? And we’ll do it inspired by the vision David Mollenhoff offered at the conference (sponsored by an invigorated Yahara Lakes Association): Clear, sustainable goals, understandable metrics and benchmarks tying science to levels of achievement, with unambiguous costs and financing plans, in a practical vision that citizens truly believe is achievable.

The leadership is emerging and coalescing. Falk has always been on board and others are coming to the table. It’s great to see the property owners so motivated. And you’ll hear about this issue over time as a priority of regional business groups like the Collaboration Council, because we’re all excited right now about protecting the Best, being the Best and staying the Best. And heaven knows it’s fun to celebrate the Best.

Neil P. Heinen, Editorial Director
Comments and letters can be sent to P.O. Box 44965, Madison, WI 53744-4965 or e-mail: nheinen@madisonmagazine.com. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

Madison Magazine - July 2007
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