Green Lake Association advances pillar projects to outpace water quality decline

GREEN LAKE ASSOCIATION (GLA) intern Marcel Hones tests a number of water quality parameters. The GLA and its partners are researching and planning the restoration of 5,700 feet of degraded stream in Dakin Creek. submitted photo

By Alison Niescier

This summer, residents throughout Wisconsin awoke to the news that blue-green algae blooms rendered their lakes temporarily toxic.

Green Lake was not part of this infamous list, but the same culprit fuels its weed and algae growth: Phosphorus, a naturally occurring element found in eroding soil, excess fertilizer and a host of other urban and rural sources.

Various human impacts concentrate phosphorus loading to nearby waterways, accelerating natural lake aging from centuries to years.

This process of lake degradation stimulates indicators ranging from moderate (like excessive weed and algae growth seen on Big Green) to severe (like blue-green algae blooms seen this summer on Little Green, Monona and Winnebago lakes).

Although Big Green remains safe and swimmable, the lake’s long-term trends of high phosphorus levels and a low-oxygen dead zone indicate that its water quality is not what it once was.

“It is critical to get ahead of moderate lake degradation before Green Lake reaches an ecological tipping point, when water quality success becomes much harder,” Green Lake Association Executive Director Stephanie Prellwitz said.

The GLA and other members of the Lake Management Planning (LMP) team have developed a long-term rehabilitation plan to improve the lake’s water quality. The goal is to implement a suite of conservation efforts that out-pace Green Lake’s decline.

The GLA is advancing three pillar projects in support of the team’s long-term rehabilitation plan: Project Green Acres, Project Clean Streams, and Project Invader Defense.


The team is making strides working with farmers to incorporate practices that protect the land and the lake, like cover crops and reduced tillage. Future efforts aim to launch demo farms to exhibit agricultural approaches that make economic and environmental sense.

“Improving soil health is a win-win for both the environment and agriculture,” said Pat Lake, a soil conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. “When runoff events do occur [from healthy soils], that water runs off much cleaner.”

While agriculture can be challenging for today’s farmers, the risks look even greater for its future farmers.

The average producer in the Green Lake watershed is 64 years old and a generational shift is on the horizon.

As a result, the GLA is awarding scholarships for educational workshops to help insure this next generation will have the resources they need to be innovative land and lake stewards.


A vast network of 125 miles of stream flows to Big Green, but more than 10 miles are pollution sources in need of repair. Until these weak links in water quality are fixed, every strong storm will crumble streambanks and pulse concentrated phosphorous into Green Lake.

Last year, the LMP team restored 6,000 feet of streambank. This year, the team seeks to restore more than a mile of Dakin Creek, a stream that has been too dirty to sustain brook trout, which is an important species that indicates clean water, since the 1950s.

“Healthy cold-water systems are not abundant in the Green Lake watershed,” DNR water resources management specialist Dave Bolha said. “It is really important to protect or restore these systems to provide that habitat or suitability for both the aquatic life and downstream water quality.”


The team also is working to guard Big Green’s waters from invasive species that permanently alter the lake’s ecology, as seen from zebra mussels that LMP first discovered in the lake in 2005.

Spiny water flea is the most urgent invader that is lurking nearby. The team is installing a defense system to decontaminate boats at public launches and prevent the spread of new invasive species.

In addition, it will continue to double down on invasive carp removal. Since one carp can lay 1 million eggs, carp have to be removed every year to prevent another “Carpaggedon.” New strategies, like custom carp traps and a shocker boat, show promise in more effectively removing these bottom dwellers from the lake and restoring the County Highway K Estuary.

While Green Lake did not have toxic, blue-green algae blooms like many other lakes this year, the body of water’s large volume and deep depths often mask its water quality challenges.

For the GLA and members of the LMP team, the most effective way to ensure a clean and safe lake for current and future generations is to be proactive now.

For more information on the GLA’s lake-focused initiatives, visit the GLA website at, call the office at 920-294-6480 or email

Alison Niescier is the project manager for the Green Lake Association, a local not-for-profit that works to improve water quality for Green Lake.