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Wisconsin Lakes Policy Agenda 2013-14

Prior to the beginning of each two-year session of the Wisconsin legislature, the staff and Board of Directors of Wisconsin Lakes indentify the areas of public policy that we deem of crucial interest to our lakes and waters in the coming year, and decide on any specific actions we plan to take to further the public policy elements of our mission. 

The document below is the result of that process for the 2013-14 legislative session. We've indicated the areas of concern and our basic organizational position on each, and for many included a specific action that we hope to take during the session. Of course, we monitor the actions of the legislature, governor, DNR, and other agencies and will react to any public policy issues that impact lakes as needed, regardless of whether they appear on this Agenda.

If you prefer,  a PDF copy of the Agenda is available at the bottom of this page.

Wisconsin Lakes' 2013-14 Public Policy Agenda

The mission of Wisconsin Lakes is to conserve, enhance, and restore our lakes by fostering responsible lake stewardship and by promoting effective, beneficial environmental public policy. Countless Wisconsinites and others from all over the world enjoy our lakes every year, and we cherish the cultural, environmental, and economic force those water bodies represent.

This agenda is Wisconsin Lakes' statement of where we plan to focus our advocacy work in the coming year to best protect our lakes, and identifies areas of growing concern that we will continue to monitor and act upon as necessary.

Areas of Primary Focus

Aquatic Invasive Species

Aquatic invasive species in our lakes and streams are a serious threat that Wisconsin has been dealing with for a long time, and no doubt will continue to grapple with into the foreseeable future. Wisconsin Lakes applauds the massive amount of work being done on this issue, from the Capitol on down to unpaid volunteers patrolling boat landings. We support continued efforts and enhanced funding that seeks to control AIS not only on a lake-by-lake basis, but also on a watershed, regional, and statewide basis.

♦ 2013-14 Action Item: A Proposal to Control AIS in Inland Waters for the 2013-15 State Budget. Wisconsin Lakes issued a six point proposal for the state budget detailing new programs to combat AIS in our inland waters and a package of potential funding sources for those programs. Wisconsin Lakes will actively promote and advocate for this proposal to be included in the state budget for 2013-15.

Groundwater Management

Scientific evidence clearly links groundwater and surface water. Our lakes and rivers are impacted by problems of groundwater quality (e.g. pollutants from leaking septic systems or from farm fields reaching lakes from groundwater inflowing into the lake) and quantity (e.g. lake levels dropping when an aquifer connected to the lake is drawn down by high capacity well pumping). Wisconsin Lakes believes groundwater must be managed in concert with surface waters in a way that does not negatively impact our lakes.

♦ 2013-14 Action Item: Preserve the groundwater-surfacewater connection established in the Lake Beulah v DNR (2011 WI 54) Wisconsin Supreme Court decision: Recently, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that DNR's duty to uphold the public trust doctrine extended to regulating groundwater withdrawals when those withdrawals impact lake levels, establishing a connection between ground and surface water regulation. Wisconsin Lakes will monitor legal and legislative challenges to this holding, and where feasible take action to prevent it from being weakened or overturned.

Phosphorus & Polluted Runoff

Nuisance algae problems are caused by the overabundance of nutrients (mostly phosphorus) in Wisconsin's lakes and streams. These nuisance conditions are detrimental to the environmental health of lakes and erode their economic and cultural impact. Wisconsin Lakes supports policies that reduce phosphorus and other pollutants in our waters.

♦ 2013-14 Action Item: Full Implementation of Existing Phosphorus Administrative Rules: In December 2010, Wisconsin's new phosphorus water quality standards and point source effluent limits took effect. These rules, unique in the nation, offer flexibility for businesses to meet the new standards. Wisconsin Lakes will continue to monitor the implementation of the new standards, with an eye towards the following:

• Ensuring adequate funding under the rules for adaptive management programs that help municipalities, industries and farmers work together to lower the phosphorus load in a watershed,

• Bringing together stakeholders including the Department of Natural Resources to help develop Wisconsin's Nutrient Management Strategy to provide a comprehensive picture of nutrient management activities for both point and nonpoint sources in Wisconsin,

• Helping to identify target watersheds for reductions in phosphorus and/or nitrogen.

Shoreland Management

What happens on the shores of our lakes greatly impacts the entire water body. Wisconsin Lakes supports reasonable policies of shoreland management that protect the lake environment, thereby maximizing the cultural, environmental, and economic value of the lake system for all users.

♦ 2013-14 Action Item: Ensure NR115 retains strong standards for shoreland protection. NR115, the Department of Natural Resources rules that regulate shoreland development in the state, was recently placed in revision mode, despite a recently completed ten-year revision process. The resulting rules are currently being implemented by the counties with a deadline of 2014. If revisions are to be made, Wisconsin Lakes will work with the DNR and other stakeholders to advocate for modifications and revisions to NR115 that are protective of lake and watershed health.

♦ 2013-14 Action Item: Modification of Recent Legislation Concerning Nonconforming Structures (Act 170): 2012 Act 170 modified existing law such that a county is now prevented from enacting shoreland zoning standards that regulate non-conforming structures in a manner more stringent than the state standards, and must allow construction on substandard lots in certain circumstances. Wisconsin Lakes opposed this bill on the basis that local governments should be able to regulate their own zoning activities based on their own priorities and needs. Wisconsin Lakes will seek modifications to this law to restore flexibility to the counties in shoreland ordinance development.

Building a Watershed Approach to Public Policy

A lake is impacted not just by what happens in its waters out from the shore, but also what happens on its shoreland zones, and even what happens on the lands from where its waters drains – its watershed. Wisconsin Lakes believes that public policy decisions regarding the waters of the state must be made with a watershed basis in mind, rather than separate decisions for lakes, decisions for wetlands, etc. With this in mind, we will work with state government, DNR and other agencies, and local governmental bodies to approach issues from a watershed basis.

Educating Citizen Advocates

The best way to ensure good public policy for lakes is to have an effective, educated citizenry advocating for just such a policy.

♦ 2013-14 Action Item: Citizen Advocacy Trainings: Wisconsin Lakes will build upon our successful Lakes In Action citizen advocacy workshop, training lake citizens to be effective advocates for their own lakes' issues and for issues of statewide importance.

Other Areas of Key Concern

While Wisconsin Lakes is not planning specific legislative activity in the following issue areas in 2013, we recognize each as a key area of public policy that impacts our lakes. We continue to work to increase our understanding of and refine our position on each area, so that we are ready to react if and when it becomes necessary.

Lake Level Management: In lakes where the depth is managed by human control, disputes frequently arise over the level at which the lake should be maintained. Wisconsin Lakes believes that the best management plan for a lake's level is one that maintains a healthy aquatic ecosystem and takes into account the cultural and economic needs of all those who benefit from the lake.

Mining: As with most activities, mining of any kind inevitably impacts the environment surrounding the mine. At the same time, mining may positively impact local and regional economies, and can produce needed materials. Because of these realities, Wisconsin Lakes is not categorically opposed to mining, but believes that it must be conducted, as any activity must be conducted, in a manner that reduces negative impacts on our waters and preserves the many cultural and economic benefits those waters provide.

Bobbie Kocim,
Jan 15, 2013, 8:16 PM