Wisconsin Lakes

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Dredging, redux!

DNR Proposes General Permit for Small Scale Dredging in Lakes

By Michael Engleson, Wisconsin Lakes

In the last legislative session, one of the large pot pourri property rights bills dealing with water included a provision that directed the Department of Natural Resources to issue a general permit that would have allowed a riparian landowner to remove up to 30 cubic yards of lakebed via dredging on inland lakes and 100 cubic yards on Great Lakes waters per year. Unlike individual permits which require public notice and typically a site visit from DNR before approval (allowing the conditions of the permit to be tailored to the unique features of the specific project), general permits only require that the landowner show the department they meet the terms of the permit to be approved – no notice, no site visit, and far less ability to account for the unique circumstances at hand.

Picture of dredgingRiparian landowners rose up, testifying, calling, and writing their legislators to let them know that they didn’t want less oversight, and that whatever benefit they might receive for themselves with easier dredging, they feared the impact on their lake from less conscientious neighbors. Legislators heard of worries of the spread of invasive species, kicking up of polluted sediment, loss of nearshore habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and even the release of hazardous substances. The outcry, along with that of sportsmen and others, contributed to the provision being pulled from the bill, and it died a silent death.

Despite all that opposition, however, the idea has been resurrected, as DNR recently announced that it intends to issue a statewide general permit for small scale dredging in lakes. The terms of the permit are somewhat less generous than last year’s proposed legislation, allowing only 25 cubic yards for inland lakes and 100 for Great Lakes waters over five years instead of similar amounts annually. But as a General Permit, it still lacks a meaningful public notice (it does require a posting of the permit five days before dredging in a “conspicuous place” on the property), and with no specific qualifications for contractors doing the work, it begging to cause problems. Presumably the agency is attempting to head off even worse terms that might be foisted on it by anticipated legislation this session, but it remains a fact that this is a general permit that almost no one said they wanted, and for which a lot of people expressed disdain.

Wisconsin Lakes opposed the use of a general permit for small scale lakes dredging projects last year, and we still do now. We’ll be providing more analysis and information on the permit in the coming days via this space and our electronic newsletters.

DNR’s announcement and a link to the permit proposal can be found at: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Waterways/construction/dredging.html.

The Department is holding two hearings next week to provide more information on the permit and to take comments from the public. The hearings are:

TUE, FEBRUARY 14, 2017 ~ 1:00PM

DNR GEF 2 building, Room G09

101 S. Webster Street, Madison

THR, FEBRUARY 16, 2017 ~ 1:00PM

DNR Service Center

2984 Shawano Ave., Green Bay


Written comments will also be accepted until March 3, 2017 by email to , or by standard mail to:

Waterway Policy Coordinator
Bureau of Watershed Management, DNR-WT/3
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707-7921