LRP - Licenses

LRP - Regulations

LRP - Permits

Recreation - Statewide

Recreation - Trapping

Recreation - Fishing

Recreation - Hunting

Env. Protection - Management

Env. Protection - Emergency

Env. Protection - Resources

To sign up for updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please enter your contact information below.

about the programs that provide a healthy Wisconsin shoreland, a system of native plants and trees thriving in and around the shallow water.
resources provided by local communities that offer zoning ordinances to guide development near navigable lakes and rivers.

Did You Know?
Lakes and rivers belong to the state's citizens. See: The Public Trust Doctrine.
The number of homes on lakes of all sizes increased 216 percent from the 1960s to 1995.
See: Development Trends in Northern Wisconsin.

As northern lakes are developed...
Songbirds decrease and grackles, cowbirds and other common species increase.
Green frog populations decrease.
Musky, trout and bluegill populations decrease.
See: Preserving Fish and Wildlife Habitat.

Contact information
Visit our Wisconsin Shoreland Zoning Contacts page to find out who to contact regarding your property.

Safeguarding our shorelands News

Forty years after they were first adopted, state shoreland development rules in NR115 Wisconsin Administrative Code have been updated to better protect lakes and rivers while allowing property owners more flexibility on their land.

Wisconsin shoreland rules revised

After a historic public participation process, the revised rules reflect six years of advisory committee meetings, eight listening sessions, two rounds of public hearings, more than 50,000 public comments, and compromises agreed to by key development and conservation interests. Watch the press conference from June 10, 2009, announcing the revised rules.

Counties adopting the standards now

County governments have until October 1, 2016, to update their shoreland development rules to be consistent with or exceed these minimum standards. As of October 2011, Adams, Buffalo, Dodge, Monroe, Sawyer and Waushara counties had incorporated the revisions into their ordinances and DNR had reviewed draft ordinances from nine other counties.

What the revised rules mean for property owners

Now and after the rules are enacted locally, owners of existing homes and buildings can keep what they have. They won't have to do anything different unless they propose a major change on their property, like remodeling their home, expanding it, or paving or covering more surfaces. Then, they may have to take steps to offset the potential impacts from their project including increased water runoff and pollutants and habitat loss for wildlife.

Waterfront property owners and local economies benefit financially due to the amenities shoreland standards preserve: clean water, wildlife, scenic beauty, and peace and quiet. Please see our research on shoreland economics.

How the shoreland development rules affect cities and villages

When creating Wisconsin's Shoreland Zoning program, the legislature did not require villages or cities to adopt shoreland zoning under s. 59.692. Therefore, the DNR may not require villages or cities to zone shorelands within their boundaries under ch. NR 115.

However, the legislature did create two exceptions under s. 59.692, where shoreland zoning would apply to villages or cities. The exceptions apply to shorelands, which were in unincorporated areas subject to county shoreland zoning, but later incorporated into or annexed by a village or city.

The exceptions ensure that shorelands in unincorporated areas subject to shoreland zoning will continue to receive the protection that shoreland zoning provides to water quality, natural scenic beauty, and fish and wildlife habitat even if the area in which those shorelands are located is later annexed or incorporated. Please see our municipalities FAQ titled "Do the revised statewide shoreland zoning standards in ch. NR 115 apply to villages or cities?" [PDF] for further detail of when the exceptions apply.

Please note that 2013 WI ACT 80 [PDF exit DNR] modified the shoreland zoning rules for cities and villages that annex or incorporate land. The department is currently working on updating this fact sheet.

Key shoreland development rule provisions

Some of the shoreland development rule provisions were unaffected by the revisions, but several have changed. In addition, some rule provisions are new to provide for existing and new property owners.

Some standards remain the same
Homes must still be set back 75 feet from the water
Minimum lot size requirements remain at 20,000 square feet and 10,000 square feet
Some standards changed
Spending limits on repairs to existing non-conforming residences located within 75 feet of the water’s edge have been eliminated
Expansion of an existing home closer than 75 feet from the water is now allowed in some cases: a property owner can build a second story or otherwise add-on vertically, if their existing house is at least 35-feet back from the water. Expansion of an existing home more than 75 feet from the water is still allowed
Property owners expanding the physical footprint of a non-conforming structure will be required to offset the environmental impact of the expansion by choosing from a number of options. Examples include reducing the amount of mowing next to the water, installing rain-gardens to absorb storm runoff, or re-planting native vegetation near the shoreline. Counties will set what the specific mitigation requirements are as they update their ordinances
Some standards are new
A new standard caps the total amount of hard or “impervious” surfaces such as roofs, pavement and decks allowed on shoreland property. The caps apply only to properties within 300 feet of lakes or rivers, and they do not affect existing property owners unless the owners try to make major changes that would cover up more land with hard surfaces
No limitations would exist for additions or new buildings where the lot’s impervious surfaces do not exceed 15 percent of the total lot size. Where the sum total of impervious surfaces is between 15 percent and 30 percent of the lot size, property owners would be required to take measures to offset the environmental impact of their proposed project
Impervious Surface Fact Sheet [PDF]
The legal language
Chaper NR115 [PDF]
Statewide Minimum Shoreland Zoning Economic Impact Analysis [PDF]
Contact information
For more information about this page, please contact:
Shoreland policy coordinator
Bureau of Watershed Management
Last revised: Tuesday March 17 2015