University of Wisconsin–Madison

Native Plants, Community Participation, and UW Partnerships Help to Protect Our Watershed

UW-Madison has a special relationship to the lakes of the Yahara watershed. Situated on the shores of Lake Mendota, which constitutes one side of the iconic isthmus that defines the Madison cityscape, the university has long supported green initiatives that ensure that the Yahara watershed is clean and healthy.

Memorial Union Terrace
People sit along the Memorial Union Terrace shoreline and watch the sun set over Lake Mendota following a summer thunderstorm. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Stormwater runoff to the lakes is one of the primary focal points for water management by Facilities Planning & Management. Across campus, UW-Madison has installed rain gardens, porous asphalt, roof water collection, and many other features to promote infiltration, all of which serve to keep rain where it lands.

A usable green roof covered with plantings is pictured at Signe Skott Cooper Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during a preview tour of the facility in 2014. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

In addition, UW-Madison is a member of the Madison Area Municipal Stormwater Partnership (MAMSWaP), which is a group of municipalities and organizations that work to develop and implement programs that both reduce and improve the quality of stormwater runoff across Dane County. Joint activities by MAMSWaP members include permit preparation and submittal, participation in research, and the funding of a dedicated position for public information education and outreach.

But there is an opportunity for the far-reaching actions of MAMSWaP to be multiplied by community groups and individuals who encourage native plantings at home and the workplace. Not only do native plants add beauty and attract wildlife to a landscape, but they act as little sponges that help rainwater soak into the ground, preventing polluted stormwater runoff from reaching area lakes, rivers, and streams. If you have an available outdoor space near your home or workplace, planting a native garden this spring can serve an important hydrological purpose.

The 2018 Plant Dane native plant program, organized by MAMSWaP and Dane County, makes installing native gardens more affordable. The Plant Dane program provides native plants to schools, non-profit organizations, municipalities, and residents in Dane County for a fraction of the normal retail cost. Organizations can choose from more than 40 native plant species, including kits for butterfly, prairie, or rain gardens. Plants are $2.25 each and all species must be ordered in multiples of four.

In addition to your own projects, the Plant Dane program offers the opportunity donate native plants to specific community and school projects across the area.  Program details are available at Orders will be accepted through March 19th, 2018.

A goldfinch perches on amid a sea of flowering prairie dock, purple gayfeather and rattlesnake master plants at the Curtis Prairie at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum during a summer morning in August. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Finally, for those new to the world of native gardening or those who would like to learn how to improve their water quality impact, Plant Dane is also offering a Rain Garden Workshop on Saturday, March 3rd at a cost of only $10. Held at the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department Building, the workshop will include a hands-on opportunity to help guide participants through the process of site selection, sizing, site preparation, and plant selection. Experts will be on hand to assist participants in designing a plan tailored to their site. To ensure your garden has many successful future seasons, information on proper installation and maintenance will also be provided. To register for the workshop or to find additional information, visit

To learn more about our MAMSWaP partnership, contact Chris Egger in the FP&M Environment, Health & Safety Department.