Wisconsin Lakes

We Speak for Lakes

WI Lakes

Proposal to Revise Chapter 33

Fifty years ago, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted a law creating “inland lake protection and rehabilitation districts,” which would undertake programs of lake protection and rehabilitation.” This became Chapter 33 of the Wisconsin statutes, and now in 2023 over 250 lakes are managed in part by a local lake district. Districts work to control or prevent aquatic invasive species, manage dams, work on water quality issues, and more. 

While small changes to lake district law were enacted over the years, no comprehensive set of revisions has occurred since 2003.

Wisconsin Lakes, working with our partner the Extension Lakes Program at UW-Stevens Point, and with help from the UW Madison Division of Extension Local Government Center, asked Wisconsin’s lake districts for suggestions of revisions that could help the law work better. Those suggestions have been reviewed, discussed, and distilled into this proposal. Our hope is that it could see passage in 2024 or early in 2025.


Send your comments on the proposal* to Mike Engleson at

* Please limit comments to the proposal itself. Decisions of what will go into the proposal are based on many factors, including applicability to all districts, relation to other statutory provisions, and political considerations. While all suggestions are reviewed and are apprecitated, not all will be able incorporated into this proposal, and not all suggestions in the proposal may make it into any final bill. The proposal only covers administrative functions of lake districts under chapter 33, and will not consider expansions of lake district authority into other areas of law (e.g. providing a district authority to pass a boating ordinance without permission of local authorities).

Here are the highlights of the proposal:


The proposal would better define who gets to vote at district annual and special meetings by clarifying some of the definitions and using consistent language throughout the chapter. It would also end the irrational situation where a candidate could receive less votes for the board of commissioners than other candidates but be declared the winner because under the current statute the board must have one resident if a resident runs for office.

Increasing the bid limit

The proposal would increase the threshold for putting out a bid from $2,500 to $10,000

Formation of a district

The proposal provides better definition of terms and fleshes out a more detailed process for the creation of a district. It provides a definition of “petition,” provides a structure for how petitions are certified, and clarifies other provisions related to district creation.

Initial funding of a district

The proposal allows a newly formed district to obtain a loan to cover operational costs until the taxes are received as voted on at the initial annual meeting. This is important because it is virtually impossible to collect taxes in the first year of operation

Prevents “incompatibility of office”

Under Ch. 33, both the county and the largest town in the district appoint individuals to serve on the board of commissioners. To avoid outsized influence by the town, the proposal would not allow the county to appoint someone who has direct influence over who the town appoints.

Commissioner pay for work done for the district outside of board duties

The proposal would allow lake district commissioners to be paid for work done on behalf of the district outside their duties as commissioners, in the same way town board members are allowed to be paid for such services.

Allow creation of a contingency fund

The proposal would allow a contingency reserve like is allowed to other local governments. The statute is currently silent on this.

Emergency provisions for annual meetings

We learned in the COVID-19 pandemic that Chapter 33’s prescription of certain times of year for annual meetings can be problematic if an emergency prevents those meetings from being held. The proposal would provide some guardrails on how to get around that issue if a formal emergency declaration is in effect.

Recall of elected commissioners

The proposal creates a process for the recall of elected commissioners before the end of their term.

The proposal also cleans up some other ambiguities in the chapter and clarifies some other definitions.

Read the full proposal, with language for statutory changes:

Send your comments on the proposal* to Mike Engleson at