Here's a popular idea.
Close observers of Wisconsin weather will note that it is raining and cold today, and that this has been a somewhat common occurrence during all of this "spring."
A few weeks ago, I speculated that this was bad news for the Madison lakes because it meant more runoff from farm fields, streets and parking lots.
As I reported recently in an Isthmus cover story, it's really the farm runoff that is the major problem, as it contains lots of phosphorous that feeds algae. Sometimes I think we focus too much on runoff from urban areas when, in fact, that's a relatively small part of the problem.
Nonetheless, I did follow up with my friend and Madison Streets Division spokesmodel George Dreckmann to get the actual numbers on the potential runoff from city streets.
Here's what George reported to me in an email. In a normal year, the city will start intensive street sweeping during the first two weeks in March. But this year, due to snow and cold weather, the city couldn't get started until March 24. Plus, even then there was still some hard-packed ice on the south sides of streets and in shady places, making it impossible to get to the curbs where most of the debris sits.
And this year, there was a lot more debris to sweep up. In just the first two months of 2013, the city used 8,200 tons of sand. That compares to just 3,600 tons in 2012.
To make matters even worse, the late start came after unusually heavy rains in March and April. So, how much of that stuff got washed into the lakes? Well, nobody can say for sure, but just to give us some idea, George says that last year Streets Division crews swept up 7,365 tons of debris in March and April. This year it was only 3,700, and we know, of course, that there was more debris out there this year because of the need to sand more.
Even now a lot is being left on the streets because the sweepers can't get to the curb in many places due to parked cars.
One possible solution -- not suggested by George but by me -- is to extend the ever popular alternate side parking restrictions to May 1. They currently expire on March 15. But we could give the Streets Division authority to end the restrictions early once spring clean up is done.
That probably wouldn't be very popular, but if people knew it was about improving the lakes I'm pretty sure it would be supported.