City officials warn high lake levels could cause major problems this winter

Water resource engineers working to lower levels
City officials warn high lake levels could cause major problems this winter
‎Deb Travis Archer‎
Lake Monona

Months after historic rainfall here in Madison, the Yahara lakes remain abnormally high. Water resource engineers warn those high levels could cause problems heading into the winter months.

Nov. 1 is usually a deadline for officials as it marks the period when they start looking at winter levels rather than summer levels. All four of the major lakes in the county are still above their summer levels, something officials are concerned about heading into colder months.

Right now, the water levels on the Yahara lakes sit above the maximum summer levels by about 1 to 2 inches. Water should be even lower than that heading into winter.

Why is that so important? It’s desirable for the county to have lakes sitting lower during the colder months because ice expands, so lower water levels prevent ice damage to the shorelines. Lower levels also allow room for the spring runoff as the snow melts.

Water engineers like to see that lower level starting Nov. 1.

According to county officials, the dams at Babcock County Park and Lafollette County Park are completely open in full flow condition and their associated locks are open for navigation.

They say lake levels are being drawn down as quickly as possible in hopes of getting the water levels down ahead of the winter freeze.

Ice expansion is the main concern for officials, who say the higher the lakes, the worse erosion to the shorelines will be.

Changing weather also plays a role in that, according to the county. A cold, hard winter typically keeps ice in its place. But if we have constant swings in temperatures, ice can shift and possibly damage the shorelines.

The good news: the slow-no-wake orders that have been in place for the majority of the summer months and all of fall will soon be lifted. Lakes must stay at the desired levels for five days before officials can make that call.

Officials say the slow-no-wake order on Lake Mendota may be lifted as soon as this weekend. Others would follow in the days and weeks ahead. The most recent slow-no-wake order has been in effect since Aug. 21.

Officials caution people out on the lakes to be extra vigilant, as buoys in the Yahara River and lakes were removed earlier this week. Those buoys normally mark rock hazards and navigation paths.

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