Lake Levels Task Force, Jail Construction Changes, and Manure Storage

Dear Neighbors,
The last few weeks have been very busy. The lake levels task force which I am on has met three times, with three additional meetings pending. We are poised to pass a comprehensive overhaul of our manure storage ordinance, and I detail some unfortunate challenges to the Jail construction project. I also have updates on bike trail construction and improvements.

Lake Levels Task Force

Supervisor Buckingham, Chawla and Erickson review the technical work group’s findings.

Supervisor Buckingham, Chawla and Erickson review the technical work group’s findings.

Following the historic flooding that Dane County and the Isthmus experienced, we have a task force that is reviewing the finding of a technical work group. This is a result of resolution 227, which I co-sponsored.

To read the technical work group report, listen to meeting audio, read public comment and get detailed background info, please visit this web site:

It is critically important that the public have access to public meetings, so I recorded the first two flood task force meetings. In these meetings we covered adaptation and mitigation scenarios. I think the adaptation scenarios researched were outliers. Here's why:

  • Removing all dams from the watershed would remove all flood controls we have through the operation of the dams.

  • Managing Lake Mendota at the one-hundred year flood levels would leave us susceptible to major flooding with any substantial storm.

  • Lowering Lake Mendota one foot in isolation would cause three feet of water to flow into Lake Monona. This scenario should have been considered with a gradual lowering over a longer period of time and should been paired with the mitigation scenarios that increase flow through the watershed.

It is critically important to determine what our target lake levels should be. I asked the task force to consider the scenario where we receive the amount of rainfall we did in August, in addition to one or two of the storms that just missed us. What would the flooding effects have been with lakes at the seasonal maximums, medians and minimums? What would the flooding impact have been if lakes were at a lower level? If we have this information, it will help us develop a risk profile so we know how much water our system can handle at different lake levels.

Here is a link to the audio where I discussed these points with the committee. I encourage you to listen to the full audio as well:

Flooding - Mitigation Scenarios

The most promising mitigation scenarios are pumping and dredging, and you will be hearing a lot about these options going forward. There were representatives from the DNR at the meeting who answered detailed questions about both scenarios. Dredging the Yahara River from Lake Monona to the Stoughton Dam will have a more straightforward-permitting process than pumping, and the permit would be valid for 10 years. This will help increase flow through the system, and provide us the tools to help us better manage our lakes at appropriate levels.

The Dyreson fish weir that was built by Native Americans is in the in the Yahara River. It is very likely of prehistoric origin, and was used by the Ho Chunk people. We must have a detailed conversation with all parties when considering dredging in these areas. I asked these questions and the answers can be heard here:

Pumping is also a longer term mitigation scenario. Pumping infrastructure would need to be installed to pump water from Lake Waubesa to Badfish Creek. This is close to a sensitive wetlands area and an MMSD Easement for sewage treatment. The pumping route would need to be set up to account for this, and we we need to make sure to not overwhelm Badfish Creek with water. There would also need to be mechanisms to control how much water is pumped, and controls to turn it on and off.

The important part of this scenario is that it gives us two levers to control water flow: one at the top of the watershed with the Tenney Dam, and one at the bottom of the watershed with the new pumping infrastructure. The mitigation solutions will be tough to get into place this season. That is detailed in the meeting here:

If you have been following my position, you probably know that I am really trying to find out what our proper lake level targets should be. This is always a delicate question and a tough issue to move forward, but I am committed to working on it. Back in September during the height of the flooding, a number of well-respected political leaders composed a letter to the DNR requesting that lake levels be reviewed. You can read it here:

I want to make sure this question doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. You can see the DNR’s and county staff’s response to my question about lake levels here:

Make your voice heard: Isthmus Flooding Group


After the flooding, a strong neighborhood-driven group formed to address short and long-term approaches to flooding. They have been meeting regularly and will review a list of recommendations on Wednesday, February 27 from 7-8pm in the Festival Foods community room. I encourage you attend, and to read the recommendations here:

I have already signed on in support, and following the meeting Wednesday, I anticipate I will be encouraging others to do so as well. Please follow the group on Facebook:

Regardless, I encourage you to make your voice heard directly with the Lake Levels Task Force:

Public comments with recommendations for the task force to consider will be accepted through Friday, March 8, 2019. Public comments must include a name and address in order to be considered. Your name and comments may be posted online and/or available as open records. Comments should be emailed to

The next taskforce meeting will be a public hearing on March 5 @ 5:00 PM Lyman F Anderson Ag & Conservation Center 5201 Fen Oak Drive - Room A/B Madison WI 53718

Jail Construction Challenges

I have been frustrated by the potential nearly-doubling price of the jail construction project. My preferred approach is to treat law enforcement and mental health in separate public safety and public health contexts and spaces. I was opposed to the jail plan that passed the county board prior to my election. As of now, the public safety building that was supposed to have multiple floors added to it cannot support that additional load. This means that other alternatives are being considered.

Abigail Becker from The Cap Times does a great job detailing this in this article so please reference it for background info. The challenges that we see are renovating the CCB top floors, which will require a detailed plan for remodeling while the facilities are used. A new ‘greenfield’ would present challenges transporting people to and from the courthouse downtown, and would need to be accessible to public transportation. Adding to these challenges is increasing construction costs.

I testified against an additional $186,000 to the consultant to study these options, because I feel that due to challenges we face and money already spent that the consultant should work with the taxpayers on these costs. I ran a consulting company in the past, and even though we specialized in software, the same business principles apply. Big thanks to Brenda Konkel for recording the meeting. You can hear my testimony here:

Manure Storage Ordinance


We are on the cusp of passing a manure storage ordinance which will put Dane County in line with state law, reduce the amount of manure entering our watershed and polluting our lakes, and provide farmers with cost-sharing resources.

It will be one of the tools that we need (a big one) to reduce phosphorous in our lakes and achieve our goals of clean lakes and clean water. It was ironic to spend Valentine’s Day talking about cow manure, but in the end we got really good results! Check out this presentation outlining the changes.

I want to give a big thanks to Land and Water staff and the committee for working proactively with the agricultural community, holding a series of public hearings, and working collaboratively with the community and industry. The full board will vote on this at our next meeting on March 7th.

News and Notes

  • The County Board commemorated Black History Month by honoring local and national leaders. Thanks to Supervisor Shelia Stubbs for leading this effort. Among those honored were Judge Paul Higginbotham, State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, and Milele Chikasa Anana. It also honored those with Wisconsin connections like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Kaepernick.

  • We send a fond farewell to Supervisors Pertl, Dye and Kolar. They all have important leadership positions in the Evers administration, and have been leaders on the board for years.

  • The Parks Division has secured a $146,751 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Recreational Trails Grant Program for the resurfacing of the Capital City State Trail from Fish Hatchery Road to Seminole Highway.

  • Four projects have been approved for bike trail improvements, including a north-south connection between the Glacial Drumlin State Trail and McCarthy County Park in the village of Cottage Grove; the village of Windsor’s Wolf Hollow bicycle/pedestrian bridge which will provide a connection between the Upper Yahara River Trail and Token Creek County Park; and a connection between CamRock County Park and the Glacial Drumlin State Trail in the village of Cambridge. I can’t wait until we can get from the Isthmus to Milwaukee on dedicated bike paths and trails.

  • Save the Date! Friday, April 5th, the SASY neighborhood association will have our annual party at the Goodman Community Center. I will not be seeking another term on SASY since I think it is best to open that seat for our next generation of leaders. I plan to stay very involved in SASY, and look forward to another successful AtwoodFest.

Thanks for making it all the way to the end. There is so much going on at the County level and I am balancing meetings, research for meetings/taskforces, community updates, and meeting recordings while still working my day job and being a dad and a family man. Speaking of, big thanks to my wife Jodi Vander Molen for spending so much time proofreading and editing these updates. See you around the neighborhood, and be sure to check out my update on expungement reform in the next East Side News.