Series: The Yahara Watershed

The Yahara River is relatively short in length and small in volume, but it plays an outsized role in Wisconsin given its location and status as the subject of detailed scientific research. A tributary of the Rock River, which in turn flows into the Mississippi, the Yahara is defined by the chain of lakes that are home to Madison and its suburbs, which are growing rapidly. Dominated for many decades by agriculture, the watershed drained by the river is increasingly becoming urbanized as its population increases. The region's water faces challenges in terms of quality and quantity that development and climate change are intensifying over the long term. University of Wisconsin scientists have long studied the lakes and how the surrounding landscape affects their condition, establishing the watershed and Madison area as a model for better understanding interactions between cities and the natural world around them.
 
While efforts after August 2018 storms focused on cleaning up and limiting flooding, Madison will need to address its vulnerability to extreme rainfall if it wants to prepare for the future.
Phosphorus is a well-known culprit for water quality problems in Wisconsin, and an excess of this nutrient in soils impedes efforts to clean up lakes. Several groups of people play critical roles in reducing phosphorus pollution and improving lakes – farmers, policymakers and scientists, to name a few – but how does the "average" person fit in?
Phosphorus is one of the most important components in the ongoing struggle to balance agricultural prosperity with water quality. What scientists call "legacy phosphorus" — or "legacy P," a common abbreviation — exists in a sort of nutrient limbo.
City centers typically are hotter than suburbs, which in turn tend to be hotter than rural areas, controlling for other factors. The more developed and densely populated an area, the more buildings, asphalt and other solid surfaces amplify and absorb the heat of the sun, usually with fewer plants to help cool things down.
The condition of the natural world is inextricably bound with the choices humans make. "Built" environments and "wild" areas do not exist distinct from each other; rather, both interact through complex relationships.
One organism, exploding in population, thrives at the expense of others in its ecosystem. That's essentially what happens when a toxic algal bloom spreads a slimy, stinky trail across a body of water.
The year 2070 may sound like an impossibly distant date from the vantage point of 2016, but it's as near into the future as John Glenn's first orbit of the Earth is in the past.