Possible futures for the Yahara Watershed to be unveiled at public event

May 14, 2014

The Yahara Watershed is a unique and vibrant part of south-central Wisconsin. It is home to the state capital, 370,000 people, 170,000 acres of productive farmland, and four beloved lakes — Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa.

That is why a University of Wisconsin-Madison initiative is exploring possible futures for the watershed, with an eye on ensuring the health of the region's people, land and water for generations to come by looking ahead to what could happen in the future. On Wednesday, May 14, the research team will unveil its first batch of findings at a free public event.

Called Yahara 2070, the initiative is a set of four scenarios about the watershed in the year 2070, each based on varying social and environmental trends that could affect life in the region. The pathways lead to different outcomes for the region's ecosystem services, or the natural benefits people depend on, such as food production, freshwater, recreation and biodiversity. These potential outcomes have implications for human well-being.

The scenarios are not predictions; they are fictional yet plausible stories. They are grounded, the researchers say, in rigorous scientific methodology, which combines current knowledge about socio-ecological change, innovative biophysical computer modeling, public input, and out-of-the-box thinking.

One project goal is to encourage long-term thinking in local decision making to ensure the region remains a healthy and resilient place to live, work and play.

The event represents the official launch of Yahara 2070, which is part of the university's Water Sustainability and Climate project. The project will roll out its findings through 2016. 

The event will be held from 3 until 5 p.m. at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, H.F. DeLuca Forum, 330 N. Orchard Street in Madison. In addition to the unveiling, there will be a panel discussion with local leaders, including Melissa Malott of the Office of Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Don Heilman of Clean Lakes Alliance, Brennan Nardi of Madison Magazine, and one of the project's lead scientists, Stephen Carpenter of the UW-Madison Center for Limnology and the Nelson Institute.

The Water Sustainability and Climate Project is a five-year, multimillion-dollar initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to examine how water and other benefits people derive from nature could change over time in the Yahara Watershed. Chris Kucharik, a UW-Madison associate professor of agronomy and faculty affiliate of the Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, serves as lead principal investigator.

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