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.
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.
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.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Phosphorus Rule Making Package includes the Watershed Adaptive Management Option, a provision for a new regulatory compliance strategy for phosphorus. This what is commonly referred to as adaptive management.
The EPA approves a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Rock River Basin to address water quality impairments caused by phosphorus and/or total suspended solids (TSS). The Rock River Basin includes the approximately 536-square-mile Yahara River Watershed. To meet these allocations, reductions in phosphorus and TSS loads from all source categories are required.
A preliminary review of the Rock River TMDL allocation for phosphorus led District staff to conclude that a traditional “brick and mortar” compliance approach would likely require the use of filtration technology that would be extremely expensive and benefit only the limited portion of the Yahara Watershed located downstream from the District's effluent discharge point.
This evaluation concluded that adaptive management could be a cost-effective and environmentally sound approach to addressing phosphorus from all sources within the Yahara Watershed.
The District's Commission authorizes staff to conduct an adaptive management pilot project in the Yahara Watershed to gain experience with adaptive management on a small scale.
The study, completed by the consulting firm CH2MHILL, confirmed that adding filtration treatment technology at the Nine Spring Wastewater Treatment Plant would cost between $78 million and $124 million.
The District, in collaboration with over 30 municipal partners and other interested stakeholders, begins the Yahara WINs adaptive management pilot project.
Yahara WINs participants identified the need to build capacity to support a potential transition to a full-scale adaptive management project that would focus on the entire Yahara Watershed. This led to an expansion of phosphorus-reducing practices and water quality monitoring activities targeting areas outside of the pilot project area but within the broader Yahara Watershed.
District staff engage in discussions with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that led to the execution of a new MOU that addresses key areas relating to implementation of a full-scale adaptive management project in the Yahara Watershed
District staff evaluate estimated costs associated with a range of phosphorus compliance strategies and conclude that adaptive management represents a fiscally and environmentally
responsible approach to achieving compliance with phosphorus requirements.
The District Commission formally adopts a resolution directing District staff to determine interest in participating in the full-scale
adaptive management project and take the necessary steps for plan approval based on interest
Following a four-year pilot program, Yahara WINS transitions to full-scale implementation.
In its first year of full-scale implementation, Yahara WINS keeps more than 40,000 pounds of phosphorus from area surface waters.
Completed or projected phosphorus reductions documented by Dane County, Yahara Pride Farms, Rock County and Yahara WINS grant recipients added up to 47,223 pounds of phosphorus kept out of waterways in the Yahara watershed in its second full year.
Completed or projected phosphorus reductions documented by partners and landowners top 55,000 pounds in its third full year.
Completed or projected phosphorus reductions documented by partners and landowners top 61,823 pounds in Yahara WINS's fourth full year.