About Dane County Lands and Waters



The many lakes, rivers and streams of Dane County are part of what makes this a special place to live, work and play.  Water resources are vital to the region, contributing tremendously to its environmental and economic well-being as well as the quality of life.  The county has 69 named lakes and ponds, over 475 miles of streams and rivers, and more than 52,000 acres of wetlands.



A watershed is an area of land that drains to a particular water body, such as a lake, river or stream.  Everything that happens on the landscapes impacts local and downstream water.  

The interactive map below has:

  • A search feature to find which watershed you live in,
  • A description of each watershed with links to active watershed groups, and
  • Layers that can be turned off/on (basins, subwatersheds, special water places, etc.)

Click on the arrow button in the map header to see the different layers or open the map in a new window.


Interactive Watershed Map





Dane County contains the second largest metropolitan area in Wisconsin and the seat of state government.  Land use is predominantly agricultural however farms are being lost as development encroaches into rural Dane County.  The growing urban area includes 33 townships, 20 villages and eight cities wholly or partially located within the county. Dane County also has some of the finest and most diverse natural resources in Wisconsin.  The Dane County Parks system currently provides 12,608 acres of land in recreation parks, wildlife areas, natural resource areas, the Ice Age Trail corridor, forests, and historical/cultural sites




Dane County has a varied and unique geology and landscape due to glaciation, the Yahara River and the Wisconsin River.  The glaciated eastern half of Dane County is characterized by low rolling hills, glacial deposits and with extensive marshes.  The western part of the county, known as the Driftless Area, is the only part of the county not affected by glaciation.  The area is characterized by steep ridges and valleys drained by fast-flowing streams, generally without natural lakes or impoundments.



More information about the land resources of Dane County can be found in the plans linked below: 


Native plants provide many benefits to Dane County land, water and wildlife resources.  They are adapted to the local climate and soils, and are drought tolerant and disease resistant.  The deep root systems of native plants help decrease soil compaction and infiltrate water back into the ground.  Once established, native plants require little watering, fertilizing and mowing and provide habitat and food for local wildlife, including numerous pollinator species (UW-Extension).

In natural, native plant-covered landscapes, rain soaks into the ground gradually.  Today, much of the land is covered by impervious surfaces where the water cannot soak quickly into the ground, such as streets, parking lots, roofs, compacted turf grass, and heavily tilled agricultural fields.  In these areas water runoff flows over the land, collecting pollutants, sediment, and nutrients along the way.  These are transported to nearby streams, rivers, and lakes.  One nutrient is phosphorus which can cause excessive algae growth in water bodies.  Native plants help reduce stormwater runoff and the transport of excess nutrients and pollutants to nearby water bodies.

To learn more about several local native plant species and which ones might work best in your area, use the native plant ID cards linked below.


Sources for Native Plants

Aquatic and Terrestrial Invasive Species



Invasive goldfish caught by heron

Invasive goldfish in Stricker's Pond
Photo courtesy of Jim Stewart

What are Invasive Species?

People move organisms around all the time.  Sometimes when a non-native species is brought into a new area, it may spread rapidly and widely throughout the area and cause major harm to the native ecosystem and humans.  When non-native plants, animals, or pathogens quickly take over a new location and alter the ecosystem, they are considered to be invasive species.


How do they become a problem?

One of the reasons that invasive species are able to thrive in a new ecosystem is that they often do not have the predators and competitors they had in their native ecosystem.  Without these natural checks and balances they are able to reproduce rapidly and out-compete native species.  The net result is a loss of diversity of native plants and animals as invasive species multiply and take over. 


What is Dane County Doing?

  • Emerald Ash Borer and Wood Utilization Plan (Dane County Parks): outlines proactive steps that helped prepare for the arrival of emerald ash borer in order to reduce the environmental impacts, reduce economic and social costs, and find ways to put “waste” wood to positive and profitable use.

  • Carp Removal projects: The department has assisted with various studies and removal efforts on Lake Wingra, Cherokee Lake, Indian Lake, Lake Kegonsa, and Mud Lake.  Various methods, including chemical and physical operations, have removed an estimated 800,000 pounds to date.  Carp are detrimental to water quality and disturb habitat for native aquatic plants and animals.