Lake Koshkonong Case to Set Important Precedent on Lake Health

Wisconsin Supreme Court to determine whether water quality can be considered when setting lake levels

September 4, 2012

MADISON — The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow on whether the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has the authority to consider water quality concerns when setting lake levels.

“The outcome of this case will affect the DNR’s ability to protect the quality of our lakes,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, staff attorney at Clean Wisconsin. “The health of thousands of Wisconsin lakes rests on this decision.”
 
Lake Koshkonong is a shallow reservoir on the Rock River near Edgerton in Southern Wisconsin. Petitioners ha
ve asked the DNR to raise lake levels to provide better boat access to lakefront property owners. The DNR denied the request as raising lake levels would flood valuable wetlands, which help absorb floodwater, improve water quality and prevent harmful algae blooms.
 
Petitioners brought the case to court in an effort to limit DNR’s authority to consider wetland impacts when determining lake levels. The case has ascended to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where oral arguments will be presented tomorrow.
 
“Protecting water quality in lakes is clearly within the authority of the DNR,” said Erin O’Brien, policy director at Wisconsin Wetlands Association. “We're confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the statutes which require the DNR to consider how wetlands keep Wisconsin's lakes healthy and protect adjacent property from floods. Any other outcome would be devastating to Wisconsin's lakes and citizens."
 
Clean Wisconsin, Wisconsin Wetlands Association and Wisconsin Lakes filed an amicus brief in support of the DNR’s authority to consider wetland impacts and water quality under state statute and the constitutionally protected Public Trust Doctrine.
 
“Wetlands play a critical role in cleaning up our waters and preventing the smelly, green algae blooms that plague so many Wisconsin lakes,” said Wheeler. “The irony is that if the wetlands are flooded and the water becomes polluted, few people will want to boat on Lake Koshkonong.”