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For information on Lakes in Wisconsin, contact:
Wisconsin DNR Lakes
Division of Water
Bureau of Water Quality

Important Questions and Answers on Wisconsin Lakes

Lake Health

How can I get rid of all these weeds by my dock?

Hold on -- that might not be a such good idea! Aquatic plants form the foundation of healthy and flourishing lake ecosystems - both within lakes and rivers and on the shores around them. They not only protect water quality, but produce life-giving oxygen. Aquatic plants are a lake's own filtering system, helping to clarify the water by absorbing nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that could stimulate algal blooms. Plant beds stabilize soft lake and river bottoms and reduce shoreline erosion by reducing the effect of waves and current. Healthy native aquatic plant communities help prevent the establishment of invasive non-native plants like Eurasian water-milfoil. They provide important reproductive, food, and cover habitat for fish, invertebrates, and wildlife. So in order to maintain healthy lakes and rivers, we must maintain healthy native aquatic plant communities. Removing any aquatic plants should be done in a manner that limits the disturbance to the overall plant community and may require a permit from DNR. A healthy diversity of native aquatic plants can also help prevent exotic species from becoming established in the lake.

How does a lot of boat traffic affect the water quality of a lake?

Several Wisconsin studies have examined the impact on lakes of boats (pdf 145kb). Generally, the studies found that boat counts on weekends doubled or tripled on average for most weekends; water clarity was temporarily reduced on weekends; shallow lakes and near-shore areas are more affected than deeper lakes; and boat traffic may stimulate algae growth in lakes containing soft-water sediments. Another Wisconsin study concludes that motor boat traffic can reduce aquatic plants by cutting them up or scouring away the sediments they need to grow in. Shoreline erosion from boat wake can also be problematic, especially in small lakes and bays that are protected from wind-generated waves. Much of these impacts can be lessened by operating boats at no-wake speeds in shallow areas. The environmental impact of oil and gas from many of the newer boats with more efficient engines is likely to be minimal versus the older 2-cycle motors; however; the total effects are unknown at this time.

Where can I learn more about the threat of invasive species to Wisconsin's lakes?

Plants or animals that are not native to lakes or streams in Wisconsin are often referred to as "exotic species" and are considered to be "invasive" if the species was introduced by human action to a location, area, or region where it did not previously occur naturally; if it becomes capable of establishing a breeding population in the new location without further intervention by humans; and if it spreads widely throughout the new location. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a deadly fish virus found in Lake Michigan and the Lake Winnebago system that can kill a broad range of our native fish, is the latest and potentially most damaging of these unwelcome guests. Invasive species cause more damage in some places than in others, but generally they can crowd out native species, which in turn impacts other species that depends on them for food and habitat, interfere with recreation, impact industry and cost taxpayers and consumers money. The most common way aquatic invasive species are spread to new waters is by clinging to boats, boat trailers, or in bait buckets or bilge water. Cleaning boats before leaving a launch and getting rid of unwanted bait in the trash are key prevention steps. Such prevention is critical because there are no good controls for these invasive species.

How can I get involved in protecting my lake?

Wisconsin citizens have a long tradition of protecting the lakes they love, and Wisconsin's regarded as a national model for building a partnership among local citizens, government, and academia to protect lakes. Learn more about the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership and how you can join. Two other great ways you can help: get involved in the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program [exit DNR] and start up, or join in, efforts to educate boaters at landings on how they can prevent spreading invasive species. The Wisconsin Citizen Lake Monitoring [exit DNR] Network trains volunteers how to sample water quality and take other measurements to assess and monitor the health of their favorite lakes.