Wisconsin Lakes

We Speak for Lakes

WI Lakes

The Secret Weapon to Protect Wisconsin’s Legacy of Smart Water Policy


By Mike Engleson, Executive Director

We all know by now that the 2015-16 legislative session was a rough one. Proposal after proposal, bill after bill unnecessarily assaulted Wisconsin’s traditionally forward thinking water protections. If you missed out on all that happened – or just want to revisit the carnage – Wisconsin Lakes put together a summary of the good, the bad, and the ugly (yes, there were a couple of good things in there, too, believe it or not).

But it’s important to note that not everything that was introduced passed. And what’s even more important is to look at why some things passed and some didn’t.

The unprecedented rollback of county authority to manage development in their shorelands passed as a late insertion in the state budget bill, well after the time for public comment passed – and for good reason. Because the things that didn’t pass – such as allowances for annual dredging of large amounts of lakebed by individuals with minor oversight from DNR, giveaways of state-owned filled lakebed to private interests, and delegation of a virtual right to perpetual water withdrawals to high capacity well users – didn’t pass, at least in part, because waterfront property owners spoke out against them. Your emails, calls, visits, and hours of testimony to legislators against bills, some of which supposedly were for you, brought home the point to legislators that they were not the good, harmless idea their authors said they were.

The session is now long gone, and this summer we’re justifiably enjoying the waters we love. But even though no legislating, good or bad, is going on right now, there are still things that you can do to be prepared as a new legislature is elected this fall and takes office in January:

  • As we head toward the November elections, let the candidates know that Wisconsin’s strong water protections are important to you and don’t need to be reduced, but improved upon.
  • Try to meet with your legislator while there’s no session, and no pressing issue, just to establish a connection. Your lake organization might even convince them to come out to the lake!
  • If your lake organization is split on an issue, or some members have concerns over even being politically active, open up some conversations to discuss things and why they are important to your lake.
  • Take some time to educate yourself on the issues, whether it’s a specific issue to your lake or one of broad importance (are your ready to argue why the Public Trust Doctrine is important? You might need to!)
  • Work out a plan for yourself or your group on how you’re going to decide quickly on whether to respond to an urgent call for action when things kick in again in January.

We anticipate things will heat up quickly again when the new legislature meets in January for the first time. Remember, 2017 is another budget year, so beginning in February, the focus will be on crafting that bill, a process which will likely go into the summer once again.