ABOUT

The Yahara Watershed Improvement Network, known as Yahara WINS, is a groundbreaking initiative to achieve clean water goals for the Yahara Watershed. In this effort, community partners led by Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District are collaborating on a strategy called watershed adaptive management, in which all sources of phosphorus in a watershed work together to reduce phosphorus.

The adaptive management strategy is more effective and less expensive than the sources working separately on individual solutions. Partners in Yahara WINS include cities, villages, towns, county agencies, including land conservation, wastewater treatment plants, agricultural producers, environmental groups and others.

Yahara WINS began in 2012 as an effort to reduce phosphorus loads and meet more stringent water quality standards established by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Following a four-year pilot program, Yahara WINS transitioned to full-scale implementation in 2017. The project will extend over 20 years.

A conservationsit stands in field with a red flag.

What is adaptive management?

When Wisconsin’s phosphorus water quality standards were approved December 1, 2010, it included new phosphorus targets for Wisconsin’s waters. That rulemaking package also included a provision for a new regulatory compliance strategy for phosphorus called the Watershed Adaptive Management Option (Wis. Admin Code § NR 217.18), commonly referred to as adaptive management.

Adaptive management is a collaborative, watershed-based approach that allows phosphorus sources to work together to achieve the phosphorus water quality criteria in the most economically efficient manner, taking into consideration the contributions of phosphorus from point and nonpoint sources in a watershed.

Why adaptive management?

With the passage of the phosphorus rules in 2010, various entities, including agricultural producers, utilities, industries and more, were all tasked with finding ways to reduce the amount of phosphorus they contribute to local waterways. But there is strength in numbers, and the adaptive management strategy is more effective and less expensive than the sources working separately on individual solutions.

For instance, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District is regulated for phosphorus. While technology exists to remove phosphorus from wastewater, that technology has a massive $5 million price tag, which means increased costs for local communities, businesses and residents. 

Adaptive management also addresses phosphorus in a watershed as a whole. Phosphorus does not “stay in place,” but moves and aggregates. In the Yahara chain of lakes, agricultural lands at the northern end of the chain contribute large amounts of phosphorus to the watershed, but phosphorus levels in Lake Mendota at the top of the chain are lower relative to its downstream counterparts, which experience greater phosphorus loads due to the movement of phosphorus, water flow, shallower depths of these lakes and more. 

Overall, the adaptive management strategy is more effective and less expensive than the sources working separately on individual solutions. 

Check out estimated and actual phosphorus reductions (in pounds) throughout the watershed in 2020 by hovering over the icon.

Map of the Yahara Watershed

History of Yahara WINS

Yahara WINS began in 2012 as an effort to reduce phosphorus loads and meet more stringent water quality standards established by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. WINS started as a four-year pilot project, and in 2017, transitioned to a full-scale initiative that will extend over 20 years.

Partners in Yahara WINS include cities, villages, towns, wastewater treatment plants, agricultural producers, environmental groups and others. See a full list of partners here.

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