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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Memorial Union Terrace and Lake Mendota shoreline at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is pictured during a late spring/early summer sunset on June 14, 2021. At far left is the Red Gym (Armory and Gymnasium). (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Lake Mendota fills with 34,000 gallons of wastewater after valve leak

The health of Lake Mendota, the largest lake in the Madison area, took another hit when a valve broke last week.

Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) employees repaired a sewage valve on March 7 after an estimated 34,000 gallons of wastewater leaked into Lake Mendota. 

Local news outlets reported Eric Dundee, principal engineer at MMSD, noted that staff were “performing routine maintenance” on the pipe when its valve burst, initially releasing 45,000 gallons of sewage. MMSD worked to return 11,000 gallons of wastewater into the system.

The remaining 34,000 gallons of sewage flowed into Lake Mendota. Still, Dundee said he and his team are optimistic about the lake’s health post-spill thanks to a prompt response and rain in the following days. 

However, the incident poses a larger question: what was in the wastewater?

According to Mad Radio, the state Department of Natural Resources and the city-county health department ensured the region was now safe. Still, contaminants in the 34,000 gallons of wastewater are now present in Lake Mendota. While precipitation will keep them from pooling in one spot and spring temperatures will prevent worsening algal blooms, the pollution persists. 

This comes as another piece in a century-long struggle with Lake Mendota’s water quality. The body of water has disproportionately high concentrations of phosphorus, making it eutrophic and causing ecosystem imbalances. 

Eutrophic lakes exist when waters are overcrowded with nutrients, causing an increase in species growth and competition. This boost in organisms leads to more harmful algal blooms, which negatively impact human health. 

While larger implications like climate change can contribute to water quality issues, individuals and companies also play a role. Eutrophication is largely caused by agricultural runoff, and pipes weaken with inappropriate items being put down drains.

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