The Model Lake

One of the world’s most respected ecological thinkers sounds a warning for Lake Mendota


When Lake Mendota turned the color of a bad Gatorade experiment in June, you should have seen it through Steve Carpenter’s eyes.

Carpenter, who is retiring this month after 28 years at the UW Center for Limnology, talks about Lake Mendota with a subtly relaxed sense of time. He’s been studying the Madison lakes since he began his doctorate in 1974. His specialty is environmental change: understanding it, predicting it, manipulating it. And Lake Mendota has been his laboratory, his lens, his living model.

Just like you, he saw that unnerving blue, the dead and dying fish. He knew the smell would probably get worse. No swimming allowed.

But he could also see the lake in 1971, when we finally diverted human sewage from the lakes. He could see it in 1987, when an extra large batch of walleye were released to initiate a grand ecological experiment to clean the lakes. He also sees decades into the future, divergent scenarios ranging from ecological recovery to stinking death spiral.

Read more here.

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