New program aims to help residents keep Wisconsin’s water clean

New program aims to help residents keep Wisconsin’s water clean
Blue-green algae

A new program in Sauk County that will help residents prevent storm runoff from contaminating rivers and lakes is set to launch.

The Backyard Conservation Project, run by Sauk County Conservation Coordinator Aaron Pape, will make rain barrels that keep polluted water from seeping into waterways more accessible to residents.

According to Pape, water pollutants like phosphorous are the biggest contributors to blue-green algae in lakes, which has recently bloomed in high quantities in Madison lakes and can be toxic.

“More commonly it’s just a skin rash (the algae) can cause, but you definitely want to avoid it,” said Pape. “If you see lots of matted algae on the surface, don’t go swimming there, for sure.”

Pape said most runoff comes from farmers, but storm runoff from urban homes contributes as well.

“In a typical storm event, a roof can discharge as much as 700 gallons of water, which in most cases is going to run into the storm drain and end up in the stream without being treated,” said Pape. “It’s going to bring all sorts of lawn fertilizers and car chemicals and just plain old dirt and pollute the water.”

The Backyard Conservation Project will provide discounted rain barrels to residents so even community members with small yards can do their part. 

“Most people think, ‘Well what can I do? I have this little tiny square backyard; there’s nothing I can do to help the environment,'” said Pape.

According to Pape, the rain barrels give people a way to do just that.

“I don’t own a huge farm so this is a way for me.  I can do this and so can everybody else to help improve the environment,” said Pape.

Pape said the project is important to not only keep Sauk County water clean, but rivers and lakes in the rest of the state connected to its waterways.

“This is part of the Wisconsin identity. We have clean water that everybody can recreate in. We love to fish, we love to boat, we love to swim,” said Pape. “If we have dirty water, we don’t get to do the things we love.”