. . . for Stewardship and for Neglect
But before we announce this week’s winners and losers, some background.
Thus begins a periodic recognition of exemplary watershed environmental stewardship and of disappointing cases of environmental neglect in the Lake Wingra Watershed.
Because each of us can take steps to conserve our air, soil and water, public and private efforts in this watershed cause will be recognized by these new, periodic awards. The intent is to show appreciation for people, organizations, and agencies whose actions protect and enhance the health of the watershed; likewise, a spotlight will be shown upon examples of unusual environmental neglect that are detrimental to the health of the watershed.
The Award Prizes
Sorry, but there is no cash award, just a floral designation. For the stewards, The Showy Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium reginae) award will be presented to an individual, organization, or agency that practices sustainable watershed stewardship and environmental management. Meanwhile, for the neglectful, The Garlic Mustard ( Alliaria petiolata) award will be bestowed upon an individual, organization, or agency whose environmental management is unsustainable. In extreme cases, the neglectful will be recognized with the additional Buckthorn Thicket Award and/or The Japanese Knotweed Award.
The Wingra Watershed Environmental Awards will focus on initiatives and activities that show sustainable watershed stewardship and contrast them with initiatives and activities that are examples of detrimental and unsustainable watershed stewardship or just plain neglect. Included will be examples of conservation and restoration initiatives that spring from a strategic, comprehensive, and coordinated watershed-wide planning perspective.
Definition of Terms
Neglect does not imply malice or bad intent. Neglect just means the job has not been recognized or gotten around to yet. There could be any number of reasons why something has been neglected including, a low ranking on the priority list, not enough money, or people power to do the job. But, whatever the reason, a neglected job must be attended to sooner or later. The longer a project is neglected the harder and more expensive it is to fix, the more negative unintended consequences there can be.
Sustainability, in an economic and ecological context is the capacity of a system to stay productive indefinitely for the benefit of future generations. Principles of sustainability include the ideas that: stocks of renewal resources must not be used faster than they are renewed; waste emissions must not exceed waste absorption capacity, and essential non-renewable resources (soil, groundwater, clean air) cannot be depleted any faster than technology develops renewal substitutes. It is increasingly recognized that sustainability includes economic, social, and environmental components. (Howell, Harrington, and Glass, 2011 p. 411).
Everyone in the watershed has “lake front property” in the sense that the activities of each of us influence the lake and its watershed uplands. Therefore we’re all responsible for the health of the lake and watershed. Examples of positive actions we can all take include: infiltrating rainfall into the soil and not letting it run off into the street; preventing soil erosion; planting native plants; getting involved as a volunteer in a local conservation project; or simply pulling unsightly weeds from public property.
Individuals, organizations, and agencies whose actions tend to conserve and protect natural resources deserve some small degree of public recognition and appreciation. While those whose actions that fall short will be encouraged to do better.
Indicators of good stewardship activities are those that:
Promote groundwater infiltration. Helping rainfall soak into the ground can help re-charge groundwater and restore natural spring flow. Springs are valuable in and of themselves as habitat for native aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal species. Base spring flow provides a supply of fresh water year round to Lake Wingra and Wingra Creek.
Reduce storm water runoff and/or soil erosion. Storm water runoff is a lost opportunity to restore ground water and springs. Storm water runoff erodes soil, and carries with it nutrients, sediments, and pest species to the Lake. Storm water runoff erodes channels and gullies in the upland landscape, degrades native habitat, and aesthetics and our enjoyment of the watershed.
Promote diversity of native plants and animals. A diversity of native plants improves overall habitat for aquatic and terrestrial animals. A thick stand of native plants holds the soil and its nutrients and thus reduces soil erosion. Reduced diversity of native plants/animals (or an increase in non-native and pest species) can be an early warning sign of an ecosystem in trouble and headed for further degradation.
Encourage individual and community involvement. People are an part of the natural world and for this reason restoration and stewardship projects are more successful in the long run if they are planned, implemented, and managed using a collaborative process that invites and encourages participation by all interested people. This need is most clear on publicly owned property but is also true for projects on non-governmental land as well.
Working with people builds enthusiasm, interest, and understanding, along with political, financial, and physical support. Public participation also generates valuable insights and new ideas. The goal of a public stewardship initiative is to create a situation in which restoration and stewardship are considered to be an essential part of the fabric of society.
Promote community enjoyment and aesthetics. Healthy, intact, and diverse plant/animal communities and ecosystems throughout the watershed just look better than degraded weedy spots and provide ecosystem services and functions such as clean, clear water, that add to human enjoyment and pleasure of our surroundings.
The first recipients of the Wingra Watershed Environmental Awards are three units of city government–City of Madison Parks, City of Madison Engineering Division, and Thoreau Elementary School of the Madison Metropolitan School District–who have adjacent land holdings in the triangle of land bounded by Nakoma Road, Cherokee Drive, and Chippewa Drive on Madison’s near west side.
These three governmental units all have environmental stewardship responsibility for this shared parcel of land that sits upstream of, and about one-half mile from, Lake Wingra. The property occupies a critical place in the watershed in terms of being able to influence the health of Lake Wingra. The way in which these property owners manage their lands is important, and if anyone can help correct the watershed’s problems, these three governmental units are the key players.
This is so for two reasons. First, just a block away at the intersection of Huron, Nakoma Road, and Manitou Way sits a storm water outlet that annually deposits an estimated 165 million gallons of storm water (roughly 50% of the annual storm water amount) into Lake Wingra. Secondly, this huge amount of storm water runoff flows right behind Thoreau Elementary School and Nakoma Park through a City of Madison storm water ditch on its way to the Arboretum and on to Lake Wingra. The environmental practices of Thoreau Elementary School, Nakoma Park and the City of Madison Engineering Division can contribute to, or prevent, a significant amount of soil erosion to the storm water.
An important part of the soil, nutrients, and sediments that enter the Arboretum and Lake Wingra are the result of soil eroded from the property that is managed by Thoreau Elementary School, City of Madison Parks and the City of Madison Engineering Division. The evidence is presented below.
Nakoma Park Erosion Trench–The Garlic Mustard Award
The erosion trench pictured below is about 90 feet in length, about three feet wide and about 1′ deep. The soil eroded from this trench is estimated to be 270 cubic feet or about 9 cubic yards, enough soil to nearly fill one of those large double-axel dump trucks. Nakoma Park is presented with The Garlic Mustard Award for allowing this problem to persist.
The erosion trench in Nakoma Park runs straight down hill and deposits eroded soil in a City of Madison storm water ditch along Cherokee Drive.
The soil erosion the erosion trench is a public safety hazard, especially at night and especially for children who may not be paying careful attention to where they are going, In addition, the trench and the sheet erosion from the hard-packed area threaten the treasured, open-grown oaks in the park.
City of Madison Storm Water Ditch–The Garlic Mustard Award
A City of Madison storm water ditch, designed and maintained by the City of Madison Engineering Division runs along Cherokee Drive on the north side of Thoreau School, between Miami Pass (where it emerges from underground) and Seneca Place (where it goes underground again.) The open air, sinuous ditch is about 170 yards long. The width is about 15 feet wide at its narrowest and about four feet deep. The amount of soil that has eroded over the years from this actively eroding ditch, is conservatively estimated to be 30,600 cubic feet or, enough to fill just about 10,000 of those double-axel dump trucks. Think about that a minute. And, remember, this ditch is still eroding with every rain storm.
And, you might ask, why did the City of Madison Engineering Division would choose to spend in 2010 about $500,000 to impose a “storm water pond solution” just down stream and not fixing the source of the sediment problem up-stream in Nakoma Park?
This ditch is also a blight on the neighborhood landscape, detracts from the park, is a public safety hazard during dry times and wet, and continued erosion threatens to undermine nearby public infrastructure.
Thoreau Elementary School–The Showy Lady’s Slipper Award
The symbolic and real importance of Thoreau Elementary School’s rain garden can’t be overstated. It is sized appropriately for the area of pavement that drains to it. And it is positioned high enough in the landscape to capture rainfall and sediment before they would flow downstream into Nakoma Park and the storm water ditch.
Nakoma Park Oak Savanna–The Show Lady’s Slipper Award
Some ecologists might also call this an oak opening or oak grove but that is an ecological technicality. The important thing is that this planting of native species serves to hold the soil on this steep slope and adds an attractive, functional feature to the neighborhood landscape.
My hypothesis is that this complex set of environmental problems has developed because the overlapping or adjoining governmental jurisdictions have, for some reason, prevented the institutions and people from seeing the big picture and working together for a comprehensive solution.
This property is a prime example of why a comprehensive, coordinated, watershed-wide planning effort is needed for the Lake Wingra Watershed.