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Madland: Cherish Madison's lakes, with or without Rhythm & Booms


Credit:Clean Lakes Alliance
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On a walk earlier this week in Yahara Place Park, I caught my first real glimpse of Lake Monona in a long time. Canada geese and coots were hanging out where the ice met the sparkling open water, and the gorgeousness reminded me how much we should cherish Madison's precious resource -- our lakes.

One of the reasons I love Madison in the winter is that standing out on a frozen lake is one of my favorite experiences. And thanks to the multiple polar vortices we experienced over the winter, frozen lake activities were safer than ever. A researcher at the UW Center for Limnology (the folks who study lakes) told The Capital Times that this winter's ice on Lake Monona was more than 25 inches thick, which he described as “the thickest I've ever seen."

Over the winter, atop Lake Monona's ice, ambitious Madisonians cleared skating areas and created temporary art installations, including a spiral of onetime Christmas trees and an igloo on Monona Bay. Across the isthmus, a friend and I tromped out with happy dogs to Governor's Island on Lake Mendota, and frolicked alongside the bluffs usually only accessible by boat in the summer. The Capitol looked amazing when viewed across the gorgeous expanse of ice.

But summer can bring less happy circumstances to Madison's lakes, including a stench on hot days that makes me glad I don't live right next to those beauties.

This week, the press got wind of the fact that the Clean Lakes Alliancehas quietly announced it is declining to be a receiving charity for Rhythm & Booms, Madison's popular summer fireworks display that is making a move from Warner Park. On June 28, fireworks will be shot from barges on Lake Monona, their debris falling onto and sinking in the lake. Of course, not everyone supports this new plan.

Last September, former Madison school board member Lucy Mathiak, at a special hearing on the future of Rhythm & Booms, brought bags of fireworks debris she picked up after the display over Warner Park. It was a simple display of what will end up at the bottom of our already troubled lakes.

The Clean Lakes Alliance has been careful to not take a side in the debate, merely declaring that the event is "not an appropriate match for its mission." The organization is focused on phosphorus pollution, and "fireworks and mitigation of those impacts will have zero bearing on phosphorus loading or reduction," said Alliance policy and communications director Elizabeth Katt-Reinders in an email.

"What's missing from this conversation is where the potential impacts from fireworks fall in the spectrum of threats to the lakes. I don't have that answer, but it's a question worth asking," Katt-Reinders continued.

"Mercury from power plants (global source) is bioaccumulating in the aquatic food chain, there's runoff from streets and construction and agriculture, there are deteriorating sewage pipes probably leaking into the storm pipes, there are aquatic invasive species from the spiny water flea to Asian carp... and of course there are one-time a year events like fireworks," she said. "What are the greatest threats, and to what? The aquatic ecosystem? Fish? Human health? Aesthetics of the lakes? Anyway, these are big questions and interesting conversations to have."

These are only a few questions to ponder as we wrap up World Water Week, in which concerned citizens can donate to the Clean Lakes Alliance by paying $1 for the water usually served for free at participating restaurants. The Alliance says it wants to raise awareness and financial support to achieve a 50% reduction in phosphorus load in Dane County's lakes.

Lift your glass to that while watching the ice recede and welcoming the return of open water.

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