Editor’s note: The Lake Geneva Regional News introduces “Keeping It Blue,” a new series of guest columns about water quality issues from members of the newly created Geneva Lake Task Force.
Over the past few years, the Geneva Lake Conservancy (GLC) has received increasing complaints from residents and members about the condition of Geneva Lake. Their concerns include algae blooms, brown water flowing from creeks after strong rains, questions about possible farm runoff and septic system problems, buildup of sediment from the gravel pit north of Williams Bay and, more recently, the arrival of the new invasive species starry stonewort in and around Trinke Estates harbor.
These issues came to a head at a GLC board of directors meeting last fall. The board believed there was a lack of coordination among the various parties responsible for the lake, and insufficient communication regarding what was being done to solve these problems. A task force was recommended with the charter to bring together all parties responsible for the lake to meet regularly, understand the issues, agree on and coordinate activities, increase accountability and improve communication to the public.
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The result is the Geneva Lake Task Force, currently co-chaired by myself and Tom Nickols representing the GLC as well as representatives of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency (GLEA), Geneva Lake Association (GLA), Walworth County Conservation Office, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), village of Williams Bay, village of Fontana, town of Linn, Wisconsin State Assembly and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The task force’s goals are not only to provide a timely, coordinated response when needed to address current problems impacting Geneva Lake, but to also proactively prevent future problems like algae blooms and new invasive species. While Geneva Lake remains healthy, increased development in the watershed, larger farms, record levels of boating and recreational uses, and extreme weather events are just some of the growing trends that could permanently harm the health of the lake.
The Geneva Lake Task Force has met three times, and there are now four sub-committees: (1) Phosphorus & Erosion, (2) Invasive Species, (3) Agriculture & Septic Systems, and (4) Public Relations. Each meeting gets better as we communicate together, develop action plans and encourage accountability.
It is clear we need a better management plan for the lake. The current Geneva Lake Management Plan is about 20 years old. The Phosphorus and Erosion committee, of which I am chair, is contracting with Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) to review our watershed and streams and provide water testing guidelines to study tributaries to the lake that have previously shown high phosphorus levels, and make recommendations on how to lower these levels.
High phosphorus levels under the right conditions lead to algae blooms. Geneva Lake had a lake-wide, blue green algae bloom in the fall of 2017. Since then, boaters and sailors have reported smaller algae blooms in different parts of the lake. These algae blooms can be harmful to humans and pets, endanger aquatic life, make the lake unsafe for swimming and other recreational activities and possibly lower property values.
Property owners can help reduce phosphorus in the lake’s watershed by preventing leaves and lawn waste (which are high in phosphorus) from entering the lake and its tributaries. They can also eliminate or limit the use of fertilizers, filter storm-water with rain gardens and buffer strips along waterways, and test and replace their septic systems if necessary.
Geneva Lake is a treasure for many of us, a spectacular lake with clean fresh water that is becoming rarer in our overcrowded world. We must work together to be its guardians for ourselves and for future generations.
“Keeping It Blue” is written by Geneva Lake Task Force members to inform and educate the public about water quality and other issues impacting Geneva Lake and how the public can help to address them. Comments and questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Colman is co-chairman of the Geneva Lake Task Force.