The winter after Town of Verona resident Steve Sheets and his wife built their home along Goose Lake in 1989, he counted 44 muskrat domes on the top of the ice on the lake.
In order to build the domes, there has to be vegetation within the lake the animals can use as materials, Sheets told the Press earlier this week as he recalled his first year living in the town.
Thirty years later, it’s a different landscape: Goose Lake, a kettle that sits on Dane County Parks land just east of U.S. Hwy. 18-151 and the Military Ridge State Trail in the township, has grown and encroached 25 feet of Sheets’ backyard – and there are no longer muskrat domes on the ice.
“For the last 10 years, there hasn’t been a one,” he said. “I’m not a fan of muskrats, but that’s an indication on how the lake had died.”
Goose Lake’s growth, and its subsequent effects of flooding out Fitchrona Road – the boundary between the town and the City of Fitchburg – has prompted the two municipalities to partner on a hydraulic analysis of the lake, its watershed and downstream conditions into the Badger Mill Creek.
A city document from February requesting consultant proposals for the study seeks answers on how flooding could be reduced in the Fitchrona Road area, as well as an evaluation of existing or new outlet options for Goose Lake and a determination of what is an achievable water level for the lake.
Among the potential short-term solutions are adding culverts to improve flow across 18-151 and removing a gravel road that blocks the lake to the west.
Town public works director Chris Barnes said the increasing water levels in Goose Lake aren’t unique to the area. He said increased precipitation is causing levels to rise throughout the Midwest.
“It’s indicative of what we see in the other lakes in the area, like Monona, and the whole Yahara River area,” he said. “The water collects, goes into Goose Lake, it fills up and there’s no other capacity for the water to go, and it just backs up onto the road.”
Other areas of both the town and the city have suffered from water management issues.
There are several areas of the town near waterways susceptible to flooding, including White Crossing Road in the northwest and Hwy. 69 where it crosses the Sugar River, Locust Drive and Sunset Drive in the south side of the town. As a result of repeated flooding problems in recent years, the Plan Commission is working on revising its subdivision ordinance to improve stormwater management practices.
In the rural areas on Fitchburg’s southern border, multiple jurisdictions are analyzing another body of water, Lake Barney. That glacial kettle has ballooned from 30 acres to as much as 800, causing significant flooding and water table pressure issues in the area, and that has resulted in 25% of crop land being unusable and residents having to put up flood barriers and take down trees that died after the roots were oversaturated.
Goose Lake is a kettle, too, so while it’s still a part of a watershed, it has no natural outlets for water to flow out. That means when the water level increases in Goose Lake, there are only two ways for it to leave if culverts aren’t put in: evaporation into the air or infiltration through the ground.
The city is limited in what it can do to solve flooding with Fitchrona Road itself – there are federal regulations that prevent it from being raised under the 18-151 overpass, and the state Department of Transportation isn’t planning to do maintenance on the bridge for another 25 years, according to the request for proposals.
Fitchrona Road and the area surrounding it near the 18-151 overpass have experienced flooding from the lake for the last two decades. Most recently, the city closed the road due to high water the same week the city reopened the Nesbitt-Fitchrona Road intersection with a new roundabout in October 2019. In 2018, record rainfalls caused the road to be closed twice in August.
The changes to Goose Lake haven’t manifested beyond growth and flooding, Sheets said, pointing to the health of the lake itself.
Sheets recalled stories from a man who used to live near what is now Quivey’s Grove, just across the highway on Nesbitt Road, who used to swim in the lake and go fishing decades ago.
“None of that can you do today,” he said.
Sheets said part of the reason Goose Lake has grown in the last 30 years is a result of climate change, which has resulted in increased precipitation.
It’s also been affected by development in Goose Lake’s watershed to the north, including the Orchard Pointe development that includes the Target and Hy-Vee properties in the city, Sheets said. He expressed those concerns to the Press more than a decade ago, when the booming 100-acre shopping area to the north was just beginning to develop.
“We appeared and did a lot of screaming and shouting and pounding the table to get them to do more in the way of retention ponds,” he said. “We had seen the surging of the lake whenever there was a 1-inch, 2-inch rain – in a one-day period, the lake would surge sometimes five or six feet – it’s gotten worse as we’ve seen more rain.”
The lake has two 18-inch man-made culverts on the western side of the lake, which send water into a wetland scrape area that was created during the construction of the 18-151 bypass. If those two culverts become blocked or full, the lake flows out onto Fitchrona Road before water levels would be high enough to drain over the land above the culverts.
A 1997 land plan from the Madison Metropolitan Sewer District claims a culvert once existed underneath a gravel access road leading south from the road, but neither city staff nor Sheets, who was the Verona’s town chair from 1999-2001, have been able to find one.
Sheets said the chief engineer of MMSD told him the driveway has existed for many years. But without a culvert in that driveway, Sheets said, the driveway serves as an environmental barrier, preventing water from infiltrating into the Badger Mill Creek to the west.
“The driveway is a dam,” he said. “We’ve asked Fitchburg, Dane County Parks, Town of Verona, and they all walked along with me – they went out there, and we showed them – they went, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s really serious. It wouldn’t take much to put in a culvert.’”
Short-term solutions to Goose Lake’s outlet problems can be solved through culvert work closer to Fitchrona Road, and Fitchburg has already gotten started.
Claudia Guy, environmental project engineer for Fitchburg, told the Press in an email the county and MMSD removed a culvert in February near the lift station off of Fitchrona Road that was impounding water and preventing it from leaving the area.
“We anticipate that this will improve flow through the system to Goose Lake,” she said.
Last year, the city worked with AECOM, an infrastructure architecture firm, to study Fitchrona Road under the bypass. That study recommended the city include culverts underneath Fitchrona Road when it is reconstructed in 2023, Guy said.
In addition to a new outlet for Goose Lake, the study proposal document stated the municipalities would be open to creating connections between the manmade wetland the lake’s water moves to, as well as between the wetland and Badger Mill Creek.
Sheets said any solution for Goose Lake should include removing land barriers that make it difficult for water to flow out of the area.
“I’m just frustrated with the lack of action 15 years ago when we were sounding the alarm,” he said. “They really need to lower these lakes by two feet or more.”