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Discover
how Wisconsin protects waterways by holding them in trust for everyone to enjoy.
Find
the permits you need for your waterfront property projects.
Learn
about the permit process that protects public waters.

Waterway protection Lake levels

Lake water levels can fluctuate naturally due to precipitation which varies widely from season to season and year to year.

Lake Levels

Lake levels

Exemptions and permits

  • There are no exemptions for lake levels.
  • Water Permits - choose the "Waterway and wetland" tab and then find activity "Lake levels."

While some lakes with stream inflows show the effect of rainfall almost immediately, others, such as seepage lakes, do not reflect changes in precipitation for months.

Low water levels cause stressful conditions for fish and increase the number of nuisance aquatic plants. High water levels can boost the amount of nutrients from runoff and flooded lakeshore soils.

Fluctuating water levels can also impact shoreline erosion. Although low water may be perceived as a problem for property owners, it is natural for lakes to go up and down in cycles that are decades long.

Low water does have some benefits. It consolidates sediments, allows new plants to colonize the lake bed and it provides habitat for rare plants and shorebirds.

Changing lake levels on a flowage

Establishing or changing levels on a lake with a dam or other water control structure will require department approval.

Please visit Water Permits to apply for a permit.

Changing lake levels on a lake with NO dam

Diverting water from a lake that does not have an outlet (e.g. seepage lake) to change water levels may not require permit. Although permits may be needed if the diversion involves discharging into a waterway or reaches a certain volume threshold.

Diversions from seepage lakes that average greater than 10, 000 gallons per day in any 30 day period you must register and report the diversion with DNR Water Use.

Diverting water from a lake that HAS an outlet to change water levels DOES require a permit if you are pumping water either from the lake itself or from the outlet stream.

Please visit Water Permits to apply for a permit.

Laws

Applicable statutes and codes include s. 31.02 and 30.18.

Last revised: Thursday October 31 2013