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"We knew we needed to help"

Student-led science and community interests forge restoration plan for Mazomanie

July 14, 2015

A former chair of the Water Resources Management program saw an opportunity and the current chair seized it. The result: another shining example of WRM’s impact on Wisconsin communities.

The 2010 project was ambitious, involving the restoration and recreational enhancement of Lake Marion and the Black Earth Creek corridor in Mazomanie following the removal of a dam.

It began in 2009, when emeritus UW-Madison professor and former WRM faculty chair Steve Born approached Ken Potter, the sitting WRM chair, with the idea to restore the lake and re-establish Black Earth Creek in its historic stream channel.

Lake Marion watershed map
The 2010 WRM workshop focused on the restoration of
Lake Marion and Black Earth Creek in Mazomanie, Wis.

“I was familiar with the set of issues surrounding the dam and local development in Mazomanie,” says Born, who also previously led the National Resources Board of Trout Unlimited. “It seemed to me that it had every problem dimension that would make for a good WRM project.”

The dam was built in the 1850s as a way to provide water to a nearby mill. But the structure was worn out, and in 2007 the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) ordered that it be repaired, replaced or removed. Any of these options would be costly.

“The dam had been declared by the WDNR to be unsafe and the village did not want to lose it because it provided water for this recreational lake, Lake Marion,” Potter explains. “This lake was very, very important to the community, so there was a lot of concern. We knew we needed to help.”

Because the WRM students wanted the decision to be determined by the community, they did not take a stand on whether the dam should be removed. They simply provided information to the village of Mazomanie and other project stakeholders about the consequences of removal or repair. In the case of removal, they designed a restoration plan for the lake and its surroundings. They also drew up a plan for maintaining the lake if the community decided to keep the dam.

“We were very respectful of the community’s concern about the dam, and we did not encourage them to take it out,” Potter says. “We just told them, ‘If you take it out, here’s what you can do with the stream and here’s what you can do with the lake.’”

The students led environmental studies, gathered field data, and developed cost-effective options for preserving and improving the lake, as well as restoration plans for the section of Black Earth Creek that fed the lake.

“Our students spent a lot of time in the field and were able to provide baseline information that would make it easier for subsequent things to get done,” says Potter.

For example, the dam removal would leave the lake without a water supply source, so they provided strategies for reducing water consumption and suggested that the community reduce seepage from the lake by re-landscaping. They also recommended pumping shallow groundwater into the lake to maintain its level once the dam was decommissioned.

“It was really important to us that the community was left with some hope that they could have their lake,” says Potter.

WRM conceptual design of Lake Marion
Students prepared recommendations, which have now been carried out, to maintain and improve Lake Marion, restore the adjacent Black Earth Creek corridor, and develop a trail network linking community open space. Pictured is a student's conceptual design plan.

The students connected well with the local landowners and public. They gathered feedback and visions through a series of public meetings and brainstorming exercises, and they spread their enthusiasm and ideas to ensure a promising future for the area.

“It was a really great group of students that worked really hard and brought a lot of energy and knowledge to the project,” says Potter.

Ultimately, the village decided to remove the dam, and the students’ recommendations have been carried out to maintain and improve the quality of Lake Marion, restore the adjacent Black Earth Creek corridor, and develop a trail network linking community open space.

Both Born and Potter consider the project a success, providing a great learning experience for the students involved as well as a beneficial outcome for the Mazomanie community.

“You’ve got a million dollars’ worth of recreational development, trails, lake rehabilitation, stream improvement – it probably wouldn’t have happened without the WRM involvement,” says Born.

Potter agrees. “It was a great example of the Wisconsin Idea. We got to promote education while doing something good for the community.”

View the students’ final report from the project, their public presentations, and additional photos of the area.