Wisconsin’s SAFE LAKES Bill

Where it came from, where it’s headed

2009 UPDATE: THIS BILL HAS BEEN RE-NAMED SB12 AND HAD A SENATE HEARING ON FEB 11. IT PASSED OUT OF THE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE 5-0 ON FEB 20. SB 12 PASSED THE FULL SENATE ON FEB 24 AND WAS HEARD BY THE ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES ON MARCH 11TH. IT WAS APPROVED AND HAS NOW PASSED THE FULL ASSEMBLY AND IS ON ITS WAY TO THE GOVERNOR’S DESK WHERE IT IS EXPECTED TO BE SIGNED INTO LAW. IF SO, IT WILL GO INTO EFFECT ON JULY 1, 2009.

The BCLF wishes to express its sincere thanks to Senator Bob Jauch for working closely with us on this important improvement in our boating safety regs. Senator Jauch and Representative Sherman gave us great support and guidance throughout the legislative end of this process. They’re commitment to the protection and preservation of our northern natural resources is truly commendable.

Wisconsin’s SAFE LAKES Bill

Where it came from, where it’s headed

Edited April 2, 2009
Jim Brakken, BCLF, WCC & SAFE LAKES resolution author

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.

History of SB 12 (Formerly SB 385)

In 1998, serving as a Wisconsin Association of Lakes Director I was appointed to WAL’s Ad Hoc Boating Regulations Committee.  We had been asked by the Governor to simplify some of the boating regs. I offered that the existing rule requiring fast moving boats to stay at least 100 feet from docks, rafts, landings and buoyed areas was not adequately protecting the near-shore area nor the many boaters, fishermen and swimmers who use this water. I proposed we apply the 200 foot rule required of personal watercraft (such as Jet Skis) to all fast moving watercraft. Although my proposal was not accepted by the DNR at that time, I continued working with WAL to have this boating safety rule become part of the regulations.

Then, on April 14, 2000, a a 22 year-old woman was knocked out of a boat after striking an overhanging tree limb. It happened on Lake Nepco, not far from Wisconsin Rapids in Wood County. The driver was legally traveling about 25 mph, about 25 feet from shore, according to the Wood County Sheriff. Gina Winter’s body was recovered three days later.  I added the news clipping to my file. I also renewed my pledge to bring my proposal to the attention of our lawmakers, knowing that this regulation could save lives as well as lakes.

During my next 6 years with WAL, I continued pressing a no-wake buffer from undeveloped shoreline. I drafted a resolution and, with the help of several fellow WAL Directors, I pitched it to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. The regulation change appeared in the Spring Hearing booklet and was well received statewide. The WCC eventually rejected the proposal. Pressing back discouragement, we made some adjustments in the resolution. We now included an ’opt out’ provision so units of local government could exclude lakes they felt would have recreational opportunities severely reduced. We also insisted that water ski pick-up and drop zones would not be affected. We pitched it to the congress again as a WAL boating safety resolution. Three years later all 72 counties approved it at the Spring Hearings. Four out of five voters approved it, an excellent demonstration of the public’s desire to see this rule succeed. WAL later listed it on the top tier of their three-tier list of legislative priorities.

In November, 2007, with the support of the Wisconsin Association of Lakes and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress,  I contacted my Senator, Bob Jauch, hoping he would sponsor the measure. Senator Jauch immediately saw the need for this common sense improvement in our boating safety regulations and quickly found bi-partisan support with 7 Senate and House co-sponsors signing on.  The bill is now awaiting a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee of the State Legislature.

Now, SB 12, a bill that would create a 100-foot-from-shore no-wake buffer on all Wisconsin lakes, is working its way through the Capitol. As it progresses, it will need support from all who value safe, healthy lakes. There are no good reasons to go fast near shore but many reasons to support this bill. A 100 foot-from-shore no-wake buffer will be healthier for our lakes and safer for those who use them. Wisconsin’s lakes need this law.

Existing law requires a 200-foot no-wake buffer for jet skis and other PWCs and a 100-foot buffer near man-made structures for other boats. This bill would add a 100-foot buffer from natural shoreline.

The proposal includes an opt-out provision, allowing local government to exclude lakes if the law significantly impacts recreation. Pick-up and drop zones for water skiers would also be excluded.

Lakes throughout Wisconsin would benefit from this new regulation for a number of reasons including:

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.

Boater safety: Boaters have suffered injury and death because they were traveling fast near shore. This rule will protect them as well as those who fish, swim, canoe, kayak or play in the water near shore. This regulation will save lives.

Protection of plants and animals: Most 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.

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.

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 and greatly reduces clarity.

Reduced noise pollution in the near shore area: One of the most desirable qualities about lakes is the peace and quiet. Prohibiting fast boating near shore will help maintain the serenity of our lakes.

–  See WDNR Science Services report on Effects of Motorized Watercraft on Aquatic Ecosystems and

–  See BODY OF MISSING WOMAN FOUND, Stevens Point Daily Journal, April 18, 2000  at bayfieldcountylakes.org

Two reports that offer scientific support:

Near shore boating increases user conflicts and possibility of accidents

Written by Bill Engfer, former WDNR Boating Safety Chief. This press release was written when the 200′ PWC rule went into effect.

MADISON — Operating motorboats away from shorelines of lakes can help prevent accidents and reduce conflicts with other lake users and property owners, state boating safety experts say.

“The closer you are to shore, the more congested the waters are with other boats and swimmers, and the greater your likelihood of having a near-miss or an accident,” says Bill Engfer, boating law administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

For that reason, and to reduce conflicts with lakeshore property owners, and with anglers and canoeists who are fishing or paddling near the shore, Engfer recommends boaters venture farther out into a lake.

“We’ve got a growing number of boaters out on the water, but everybody seems to like to stay in close to shore,” Engfer says. “By moving out farther into the lake, you get away from the congestion and have more room to maneuver safely.”

Wisconsin has 543,034 registered motorized boats and sailboats and attracts another estimated 300,000 boats from out of state. In addition, Wisconsin residents own an estimated 326,000 canoes, kayaks and other nonmotorized boats.

 

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