Since 1999, Wisconsin Lakes has provided technical assistance to citizens and counties interested in establishing county lake classification. Lake classification is a locally-led process that allows counties to move beyond one-size-fits-all approaches to lake management.
Wisconsin Lakes helps counties and lake communities with the lake classification process by:
- Helping citizens effectively communicate their lake values to others in the watershed community
- Helping lake people play an active role in land use decisions to ensure lake protection is a top priority
- Helping groups plan projects that meet sound lake protection goals and build partnerships
- And sharing shoreland development standards and approaches to land use from other counties
What is Lake Classification?
Lake classification is a flexible lake management tool that counties may use to organize lakes into similar groups and tailor management approaches to meet the needs of lakes within each class. The lake classification process allows counties to gather data about their lakes’ physical features (such as lake type, size, watershed area, sensitivity to pollution and other development impacts, etc.) and characteristics relating to the current pattern and intensity of development around the lakes.
Where Has Lake Classification Been Used?
More than 20 counties—mostly in the lake-rich northern Wisconsin—have classified their lakes and rivers and are using classification to better manage those waters. More than 80% of Wisconsin’s lakes are found within counties that have completed classification projects.
Seventeen counties have adopted classification systems of two to four groups, with different shoreland zoning rules for each water class, ranging from very protective to the status quo of statewide minimum rules. They are: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Forest, Iron, Lincoln, Langlade, Marinette, Oneida, Polk, Sawyer, Vilas, Washburn, Washington, and Waupaca.
Eight counties undertook a lake classification project to inventory their surface waters and have developed a classification system; however the classification system and proposed shoreland zoning changes have not been adopted by the county board.
Adams, Jefferson, and Portage Counties used the lake classification tool to guide countywide lake planning efforts. Door and Kewaunee Counties used classification as a tool to update their surface waters inventories.
How Can Lake Classification Be Used To Protect Lakes?
Thus far, many counties have used lake classification and associated ordinances to tailor shoreland development standards for different classes of waters. Many counties began by tailoring shoreland development standards to better protect the most pristine and most sensitive lakes, while leaving more liberal standards on those lakes that are least sensitive and heavily developed already.
But the potential of this tool is just beginning to be tapped. Other uses for lake classification may include gathering data and guiding countywide lake planning, protecting water quality, and managing watershed land uses, reducing recreational use conflicts, coordinating aquatic invasive species prevention and control efforts.
Aquatic invasive species prevention and management
Lake classification can potentially be used to help Countywide AIS prevention efforts by guiding the deployment of resources (human, financial, and otherwise) in a strategically focused way. An analysis of the ecology of the lakes in the county, existing invasive species populations, and vectors for the movement of those species both within and into the county could result in a classification of the county’s lakes sorting them by the priority attention they deserve in terms of AIS prevention resources.
Likewise, classification could aid in targeting resources aimed at managing established populations of AIS. There is significant potential for coordinating lake-by-lake studies and plans to assess the existence of AIS and generate management strategies for any AIS that are found.
Using lake classification to manage water quality and watersheds
Lake classification can be used to aid county land and water resource management decisions, guide countywide lakes planning efforts, and address watershed management goals. Lake Classification grants can be used to gather physical, chemical, and biological data for the county’s water resources. This valuable information can then be used to set lake water quality goals, create lake management plans, tie in with other plans that address water quality goals, and link funding sources to implement watershed best management practices that will achieve water quality goals.
Managing recreational use with lake classification
Lake classification can help counties and local units of government work cooperatively to develop countywide guidance about recreational opportunities and\or management policies addressing recreational use conflicts. Counties can use Lake Classification grants to gather data on all their lakes to help the community better understand current recreational use conditions and potential use conflicts. Lakes can be classified for recreational use management by assessing their ecological characteristics, along with the levels and types of current recreational use.
Examples of County lake classification projects
Some counties are using the lake classification tool to guide countywide lake planning and to address watershed management goals. Lake Classification grants can be used to gather physical, chemical, and biological data for the county’s water resources in a strategic, coordinated manner. This valuable information can then be used to create lake management plans, tie in with plans that address water quality goals, and link other funding sources to implement watershed best management practices.
Example from Adams County
Example from Portage County
A number of counties are using sequential lakes grants over time to fund a number of classification implementation activities, such as:
- Educational programming and training, including zoning workshops for the development community.
- Production of shoreland development guides and other materials for waterfront property owners to summarize shoreland zoning rules and the rationale for them in a user-friendly way.
- Review of the county’s classification system, to classify rivers, add a wild lakes class, or address reclassification of certain waters.
- Administration, enforcement, monitoring, and technical support, to digitize parcel maps and create a geographical database in counties’ GIS to track riparian parcels, for example.
Example from Bayfield County
Example from Langlade and Lincoln Counties: a joint proposal
Some counties have sought Lake Classification grant funding to do waterbody classification ultimately intended to guide updates to their shoreland zoning ordinances. Classification has been used to develop comprehensive shoreland management plans which may incorporate shoreland zoning ordinances and other implementation tools that are not necessarily regulatory in nature.
Example from Dane County