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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast
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Dane County to boaters: Slow down
Slow/No Wake Rule expanded to cover all of lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa
Water levels remain very high throughout the Yahara chain of lakes in Madison and Dane County.
Water levels remain very high throughout the Yahara chain of lakes in Madison and Dane County.
Credit:David Medaris

Dane County officials have announced an extension of their previous "Slow/No Wake" order. As of today, the rule covers the entire Yahara watershed. This encompasses all the waters on the entire chain of lakes, including Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa. The announcement comes on the verge of Labor Day weekend, putting a damper on the three-day holiday that marks the unofficial end of the peak summer boating season here.

But in making the announcement, county officials -- including Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Sheriff Dave Mahoney and County Board chair Scott McDonell -- cited good reasons for expanding the 500-foot offshore Slow/No Wake zone that had been in effect. Chief among their rationales: the danger posed to shoreline property by boat wakes on rain-swollen lakes that are approaching record levels.

At this writing on Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Geological Survey's gauge for Lake Mendota reads 11.78 feet. That's about 20 inches above its median and mean averages for August. In an effort to reduce Mendota's surface level, Dane County is discharging about 100 cubic feet per second downstream through the Tenney Lock and Dam, according to the most recent reading from the U.S.G.S. gauge for the Yahara River at Main Street. (Earlier in the week, the discharge rate twice climbed above 400 cfps, and for much of the week registered between 200-300 cfps. The median daily statistic for the same week over the last three years has not exceeded 100 cfps.) Lake Monona, meanwhile, is more than two feet above its 27-year median and mean averages for this date according to the U.S.G.S. gauge, and is still rising.

Owners of low-lying lakeshore property throughout the Yahara watershed remain vulnerable to erosion and damage due to wave action generated by both wind and boats. Along the north shore of Lake Monona, for example, many docks are underwater. Some lakeshore property owners have removed the deck planking from their piers, but in other cases the waves have carried sections of decking offshore, where they are floating just below the surface -- posing a potential hazard for boaters traveling at high speeds.

The expanded Slow/No Wake order limits boaters to the minimum speed required to maintain adequate steering control, and forbids boaters from traveling at speeds sufficient to create wakes. The Sheriff's department will be patrolling the lakes and issuing citations to violators. Fines range from up to $50 for a first offense to as much as $100 for a second or subsequent offense within one year.

The watershed-wide Slow/No Wake rule is subject to relaxation once the swollen waters recede along the Yahara chain of lakes. But despite the sunny forecast, the saturated landscapes that surround the watershed continue to drain the recent rains into the lakes. As a result, boaters may find it slow going here all the way through the weekend.

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