‘Safe Lakes’ Bill signed into law by the Governor! NOW IN EFFECT STATEWIDE
The actual language of Senate Bill 12, formerly SB 385, the SAFE LAKES BILL is at the bottom of the page.
This is a great victory for the BCLF, WAL and for all those who work to protect and preserve our lakes!
The new law took effect at the beginning of the 2010 boating season.
DNR signed water ski take-off and drop zones are exempt.
This law has no impact on personal watercraft.
Local towns may choose to opt for greater or lesser distance from shore buffers. Go to the end of this page for instructions.
SB 12, the ‘Safe Lakes’ Bill
100′ from shore No-wake bill
Wisconsin has many wonderful lakes. We also have many good regulations in place to protect them. A much needed rule that will make lakes safer and healthier may soon be on the books. The following is the testimony offered to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on March 11, 2009 by Jim Brakken, lead advocate for this bill. It gives many of the reasons why a 100 foot from shore no-wake rule makes good sense for Wisconisn’s lakes.
I live on Wiley Lake in Bayfield County. Wiley Lake is 59 acres and has a lot of undeveloped shoreline. It is not uncommon to see boats with 150 and even 200 horse motors on Wiley Lake during the boating season.
I am a retired public school teacher and I now devote most of my time to the effort to protect and preserve Wisconsin’s remarkable but fragile freshwater resources. I am President of the Bayfield County Lakes Forum and the Cable Lake Association. I am a Delegate to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and a past President of the Wisconsin Association of Lakes. I also represent the Northwest Wisconsin Water Consortium here today.
There was a time, many decades ago, when boat motors were all small. The few that did exist did little harm to our lakes and our lake users. But motors grew, both in size and number. I believe it was back in the 1940s or ’50s that the Wisconsin Conservation Department required us to go slow when within 100 feet of docks, rafts and other boats. I learned from the UWEX Lakes Team that the average motor size back then was 3.6 horsepower. Today it approaches 100 horsepower and, according to the DNR website, Wisconsin has more than 575,000 registered boats – about one for every ten residents. That number has nearly doubled in the last 4 decades and will continue to increase. Wisconsin also has an estimated 325,000 non-motorized boats, about 75 percent of these are canoes and kayaks. Canoes and kayaks are ideal for exploring the shallows near shore. Another 300,000-or-so motorized boats visit our lakes from neighboring states. And, according to the DNR website, the boats plying Wisconsin waters are getting bigger. More than 40 percent of the registered boats in 1997–98 were between 16 and 39 feet long, compared to just 18 percent 20 years earlier. We have more boats with bigger engines and this trend is not likely to change.
When personal watercraft (PWCs) or Jet Skis came on the scene, it was clear that they could do damage in the very shallow water near shore. The threat to habitat and safety resulted in PWCs being required to stay at least 200 feet from shore, unless at a no wake speed. That sound decision was made in the mid 1990s. SB 12 would not change the current PWC regulations.
Although our existing law requires this 200-foot no-wake buffer for jet skis and similar personal watercraft, we still allow very fast boating near our natural, undeveloped shorelines. Motors keep getting bigger, more powerful and more plentiful. It is time we catch up with technology. This new bill does just that by requiring fast boating to be done at least 100 feet from our natural, undeveloped shorelines.
If this bill becomes law, there will be a handful of lakes that will suffer some degree of recreational impairment. To address this, SB 12 includes an opt-out provision, allowing a local government to exclude a lake if this law significantly impacts recreation. This offers local control, using the same process now available, to address the needs of those few individual lakes. For example, if a lake association felt this law created a hardship, they could petition their local town board to have the lake excluded. If a water ski club could no longer do its weekend fundraising show, the local government could exempt the lake or part of the lake from the rule.
Speaking of water skiers, this bill excludes pick-up and drop zones for water skiers. This addresses the needs of those who enjoy water skiing, tubing and similar activities. It also means that parents who want to teach their kids to ski will still be able to do this from the beach rather than in deep water, just as they have been doing for years.
I am told by Judge Chuck Dykman of Monona, that all Dane County lakes have had this law in effect for almost a decade with no problems or objections. Senator Miller verified this.
The Wisconsin Association of Lakes supports this effort, as you will hear today.
The Wisconsin Conservation Congress Warm Water (lakes) Committee stands behind this. Also, at the 2006 Wisconsin Conservation Congress Spring Hearings, all 72 counties supported the 100’ no-wake concept with 4 out of 5 sportsmen and fishermen voting in favor. This is remarkably high result.
The Northwest Wisconsin Waters Consortium is a coalition of 9 countywide lake associations in northwestern Wisconsin. Northwest Waters represents over 30,000 shoreland owners and many others who enjoy our lakes. Northwest Waters feels this law is reasonable, long overdue, and will benefit our lakes and all those who enjoy them.
So how would this law benefit our citizens? The first thing it offers is:
Protection of people: Children who play near shore, swimmers and fishermen, kayakers, pets, canoeists and all others who use the waters near shore will be protected from fast boats and their wakes. Parents and grandparents will appreciate this legislation.
Boater safety: Many boaters have suffered injury and some have died because they were traveling fast near shore. This rule will protect them as well as those who fish, swim or play in the water near shore. This regulation will save lives.
Protection of plants and animals: Most wild creatures spend at least part of their life in the near shore area. Nesting birds and other creatures are easily driven out by aggressive boating near shore.
Protection of spawning areas: This rule will protect many millions of eggs and fry. Sportsmen have told us that they want this rule.
Less ‘prop wash’: Data shows that the stirring effect of prop wash in shallow waters brings up nutrients that had settled out, often resulting in algae blooms and the growth of unwanted aquatic weeds. Prop wash also creates ideal growing conditions for aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian Watermilfoil.
Less erosion: This rule will go a long way in protecting shoreline from erosion, a major problem on many lakes. Eroded soil adds unwanted nutrients to the water, reduces clarity and can impact property values.
Reduced noise pollution in the near shore area: Surveys show that one of the most desirable qualities about lakes is the peace and quiet. Prohibiting fast boating near shore will help maintain the serenity and beauty of our lakes.
Compliance with the Public Trust Doctrine: This law does not deny boaters access to the near shore area if they are willing to slow down. This law would help preserve plants and animals in the littoral zone. Scenic beauty, which is also considered within the Wisconsin Public Trust Doctrine, would be protected for all.
Let’s look at boating safety again. It won’t be long before the ice is out and boaters across Wisconsin will be out for their first cruise around the lake. In April, 2000, three young couples were out for their first boat ride of the season. They were cruising around Lake Nepco, near Wisconsin Rapids. Gina Winters, wife of the driver, was knocked out of the boat by a tree limb. Her husband turned the boat around but it was too late. They couldn’t find her. The Wood County authorities found her body three days later. (See press clipping on Boating Accident page on this website.) That boat was legally traveling about 25 to 30 mph, just 25 feet from shore, according to the Wood County Sheriff. We can only imagine the grief felt by family and friends. Future similar tragedies could be avoided with this new rule. This law will save lives!
Bill Engfer was the DNR boating law administrator when the 200 foot buffer for PWCs went into effect. At that time he wrote in a DNR press item: “The closer you are to shore, the more congested the waters are with other boats and swimmers, and the greater your likelihood is of having a near-miss or an accident.” “We’ve got a growing number of boaters out on the waters, but everybody seems to like to stay in close to shore. By moving out farther into the lake, you get away from the congestion and have more room to maneuver safely.”
In the documents I have provided you today are several quotes from a report by DNR Limnologist Tim Asplund who will testify in support of this bill today. One of those quotes is “Given that most impacts of boats are exhibited in shallow water, near-shore areas, protecting these areas with no wake zones would be the most effective way of reducing impacts.” (From Impacts of Motorized Watercraft on the Lake Environment, Tim Asplund, WDNR Limnologist)
Before I close I would like to mention that Marc Schultz, chair of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Waterfowl Committee phoned me last year with his concern that this law would create a hardship for many of the lakes that are created by the Mississippi River. His concern was that duck hunters need to get to their blinds quickly, often in the dark, early morning hours. When I mentioned the opt-out provision, he felt that would resolve his committee’s concern. He called me again this year. His committee now feels that because there are so many ‘ Mississippi’ lakes affected, it would be best if the language of this bill would specify that the Mississippi lakes are exempted. My personal opinion is that this would be acceptable and would save the many local governments along the Mississippi from handling the exclusions on a one-by-one basis.
In closing, Ole Evinrude gave us a great gift when he invented the outboard motor. But I wonder what Ole would have to say if he saw a boat with a 200 horsepower motor bearing his name zipping around a 59 acre lake like Wiley Lake. I’m guessing he would tell the fella driving the boat to stay out toward the middle.
I firmly believe this law is long overdue. I can’t think of even one good reason to go fast near shore but there are many, many reasons not to. A 100 foot-from-shore no-wake buffer will be healthier for lakes and safer for all who use them. Thank you for helping us help our lakes.