Deprecated: iconv_set_encoding(): Use of iconv.internal_encoding is deprecated in /home/wiscons4/public_html/libraries/joomla/string/string.php on line 28

Deprecated: iconv_set_encoding(): Use of iconv.input_encoding is deprecated in /home/wiscons4/public_html/libraries/joomla/string/string.php on line 29

Deprecated: iconv_set_encoding(): Use of iconv.output_encoding is deprecated in /home/wiscons4/public_html/libraries/joomla/string/string.php on line 30
Wisconsin Lakes - Ordinances & Laws

Lake Ordinances & Laws

Cedar Lake in Star Prairie 8-07

Counties, cities, villages and towns also have the ability to make local ordinances to strengthen lake protections beyond statewide minimum standards. Shoreland zoning, boating, and placement of piers are some common examples of lake issues local governments have addressed through ordinances. Many counties have also developed lake classification systems.

Lake groups have successfully worked with their cities, villages, towns, and counties to pass a variety of ordinances that enhance lake protection.

Boating Ordinances

policy localgov ordinances
The Legislature has granted local units of government broad authority to regulate boating and related activities on Wisconsin lakes, rivers, and streams. The current statute authorizes including the public’s interest in preserving the state’s natural resources,” which are “not contrary to or inconsistent with” state boating statutes. This includes (but is not limited to) restrictions on speed; restrictions on certain types of boating activities on all or specified parts of the lake, river, or stream; or restrictions on certain types of boating activities during specified hours of the day or specified days of the week. Local governments that enact boating ordinances are also authorized to enforce them.

More than 500 local boating ordinances have been passed in Wisconsin; 400 have been passed by towns, 49 by villages, 66 by cities, 10 by lake or sanitary districts, and 13 by counties. More than 900 Wisconsin lakes are covered under these ordinances.

Many local units of government and Sanitary or Lake Districts have local boating ordinances that require slow no wake zones in certain areas (to protect sensitive shorelines for example), and to ensure everyone can have an enjoyable time on the lake. Activities regulated by boating ordinances include high speed boating (through slow-no-wake zones, slow no wake times, and/or speed limits), water skiing, and swimming. Some local ordinances prohibit motorboats on specific lakes.

Guidelines for Creating Local Boating Ordinances and Placing Waterway Markers in Wisconsin Waters (external site)

How’s the water? Planning for Recreational Use on Wisconsin Lakes and Streams

img5Pier Ordinances
Under Wisconsin law, State and local units of government have concurrent jurisdiction over piers and other related structures in public waters such as boat shelters, boat houses, mooring buoys, and swimming and water ski ramps. Statewide laws and administrative rules regulate these kinds of structures in all navigable waters. In addition, the law gives certain local units of government authority to enact and enforce pier regulations which apply locally.

Although the State does not directly regulate most private piers, local units of government have broad authority to enact pier ordinances to ensure that these structures do not interfere with navigation and other public interests in water, or with the use and access by other riparian owners. Ordinances are subject to the public trust doctrine under the Wisconsin Constitution, which protects public rights in water.

The most basic form of local pier regulation is the establishment of a "pierhead line." A pierhead line is a line established in the water limiting the length of piers. A pierhead line may be established in order to protect public rights in water or a municipal harbor, and is an effective way to establish effective pier length.

Local pier ordinances have also been enacted to address a variety of other concerns, including;


  • To ensure safe and sound construction

  • To reduce conflicts between adjoining riparian land owners

  • To protect sensitive fish spawning or other ecologically significant areas


To limit the density of piers and other near shore structures to maintain natural scenic beauty and reduce congestion.

Local pier ordinances can also be used to address overcrowding of waterways or to protect especially sensitive shoreland areas. Local ordinances provide a means to ensure that piers are placed in proportion to the amount of riparian shoreline and the capacity of the waterway to support such development, rather than the number of owners of a parcel.

State law also provides broad authority to cities, villages, towns, and counties to enact ordinances regulating the construction and location of piers as long as local regulations are consistent with state law. Local ordinances can be more restrictive than state requirements, but not less so. Local ordinances may also regulate the architectural features of boat shelters, but not their aesthetic features.

How’s the water? Planning for Recreational Use on Wisconsin Lakes and Streams

City, Village, and Town Phosphorus Lawn Fertilizer Ordinances
policy ordinances phosphorus

Lake groups have been working with local units of government to pass ordinances restricting the use of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus. At least 31 cities, villages, and towns have passed ordinances; counties do not have the authority to pass ordinances restricting the use or sale of fertilizers (with a unique exception applicable only to Dane County).

Nutrients like phosphorus—a common ingredient in lawn fertilizer—are degrading 90% of Wisconsin’s inland lakes. Plants don’t absorb more phosphorus than they can use, and excess phosphorus from lawns can wash directly into our lakes and streams, causing smelly algae blooms, fish kills, and declining water quality. Lakes and rivers can be extremely sensitive to small amounts of phosphorus runoff.

Wisconsin lawns and soils already contain adequate—and often excessive—amounts of phosphorus. A growing body of research finds using phosphorus free lawn fertilizer is a common sense, simple, and cost effective way to reduce the amount of nutrients entering our waterways.

On April 14th 2009, the Governor signed into law a statewide ban on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer, with reasonable exceptions,—on the use, sale, and display of phosphorus lawn fertilizers modeled on Dane County’s successful existing phosphorus lawn fertilizer ordinance. Wisconsin Lakes had advocated for the bill for several years and is pleased to see it enacted.

policy ais trailerweedsCounty Illegal to Transport Ordinances
In February 2008, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued an informal opinion that counties can enact carefully crafted ordinances to regulate the transportation of invasive species.

Informal opinions of the Attorney General provide authorities guidance about the meaning and application of Wisconsin law. They are often requested where Wisconsin appellate courts have not definitively answered a question, or to address legal questions that are unlikely to be resolved in the course of judicial proceedings.

Judicial precedent holds that the Legislature has granted counties broad home rule authority to enact ordinances that affect local matters, so long as it is not preempted by state or federal law. Van Hollen's opinion concluded this home rule authority is broad enough to permit a county to pass a countywide aquatic invasive ordinance that prohibits anyone from transporting aquatic invasive species between bodies of water within the county.

This means that while the legislature has not expressly given counties the power to enact invasive species transport ordinances, no state statute limits the ability of a county to exercise general home rule authority to pass such an ordinance.

Although counties may regulate local aquatic invasive species control, ordinances


  1. May not conflict with state law (e.g. the ordinance may not prohibit conduct allowed by a state-issued permit)

  2. May not defeat the purpose of, and


Many not violate the spirit of any Wisconsin statute.

County ordinances can be the same as or stricter than state law as long as the ordinance does not prohibit activity authorized by state law

Several Northern Counties had been exploring the idea of county "illegal to transport" ordinances to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Bayfield and Polk Counties have passed such ordinances.


Lake Related Administrative Rules
nrm09 course catalog

Administrative Rules are promulgated by state agencies to implement the state statutes and have the effect of state law (what are administrative rules and what is their role?). Administrative rules are an important area of state law. They can set environmental protection standards, clarify state laws, set procedures, and implement state programs.

The majority of administrative rules that can affect lakes and lake management are administered and enforced by the Department of Natural Resources, but a few reside in other agencies. The administrative rules summarized below are permanent rules (look up permanent rules - external site); some of these rules may be in the process of being revised, and additional rules may be being promulgated for the first time, or in effect as emergency rules (look up current rulemaking external site)

Aquatic plants and Aquatic Invasive Species Related Rules

policy adminrules nr107Aquatic plants, introduction, manual removal and mechanical control, Ch. NR 109

In order to protect diverse and stable communities of native aquatic plants and prevent the spread of invasive aquatic plants, many aquatic plant management and nuisance control activities require a permit issued by the DNR. For people interested in introducing aquatic plants into a waterbody or using manual or mechanical methods to control aquatic plants, NR 109 outlines the aquatic plant management permit process procedures and requirements. NR 109 also prohibits launching of watercraft or equipment that has any aquatic plants or zebra mussels attached in order to prevent the spread of invasive and non-native aquatic organisms. The intention of the rule is to ensure that introduction and control of aquatic plants considers cumulative impacts, minimized loss of ecological values, and is conducted in a manner consistent with sound ecosystem management. Wisconsin’s Aquatic Plant Management and Protection program (external site).

Chemical treatment, aquatic nuisance control, procedure, Ch. NR 107

For those interested in controlling nuisance plants and other aquatic organisms using chemical treatments, NR 107 outlines procedures to apply for a permit to use certain chemical in public water bodies. The purpose of the rule is to allow chemical management as long as chemical treatments are conducted in a manner consistent with sound ecosystem management and minimize the loss of ecological values in the water body. Wisconsin’s Aquatic Plant Management and Protection program (external site).

Control and prevention of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) in fish in waters of the state (NR 19)

policy adminrules nr19
VHS is an invasive pathogen that causes fish mortality which was first found in Wisconsin inland waters in 2006. Emergency rules went into effect immediately to prevent the spread of the virus, and NR 19 (in effect April 4, 2008) is the permanent rule that retains many of the preventative measures established in the emergency rules. NR 19 requires any person who removes a boat, boat trailer, boating equipment or fishing equipment from any inland or outlying water or from its bank or shore to immediately drain all water from the boat, boat trailer, boating equipment or fishing equipment, including water in any bilge, ballast tank, bait bucket, live well or other container. The immediate drainage requirement also applies to containers and fishing equipment used by bank or shore anglers, with a narrow set of exemptions. Provisions within the rule also prohibit transportation over land of undrained vessels (itemized above) from other states. Other provisions regulate the possession, use, and transportation of live bait. More information on VHS. (external site)

Other AIS Related Rulescontrolgrant-ais

Fishing tournaments (NR 20.40)

Invasive Species Classification Rule (NR 40, currently being promulgated)

See WAL's activity on these two rules on our aquatic invasive species policy work page

Polluted Runoff Related Rules
pollutedrunoffRunoff management, Ch. NR 151

This rule establishes polluted runoff performance standards to achieve water quality standards as required by state statute. Performance standards are included for non-agricultural and transportation facilities. Performance standards and prohibitions are included for agricultural facilities and practices. This rule also specifies a process for the development and dissemination of DNR technical standards to implement the non-agricultural performance standards.

More on administrative rules regulating polluted runoff (external site).

Animal feeding operations, Ch. NR 243

NR 243 specifies how Wisconsin’s largest farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs) handle, spread, and store their manure. CAFOs are considered point sources of pollution under the Federal Clean Water Act, and must get discharge permits. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has been following the federal government’s lead, and has issued permits for CAFO operations since 1984. The purpose of this rule is to implement manure storage design standards and accepted management practices. The rule establishes permit requirements and the basis for issuing permits to CAFOs, and criteria whereby DNR may issue a notice of discharge for operations that have manure spills or fail to adhere to performance standards/prohibitions within the NR 151 (see above).

More on administrative rules regulating polluted runoff (external site).

Soil and water resource management program, Ch. ATCP 50

This Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection rule is a companion to the seven polluted runoff rules administered by the DNR. ATCP 50 prescribes conservation practices to implement the DNR performance standards (NR 151) and establishes soil conservation and farm nutrient management requirements. DATCP also delegates through rule specific rule implementation and enforcement duties to County Soil and Water Conservation Programs, grants authority for counties to require landowners to implement conservation practices through county ordinance while maintaining the Department’s ability to review and comment on local regulation, and outlines the provisions of a grant program to provide funding to counties to assist with implementation of the program. The rule also contains parameters for cost-share grants to landowners and standards for cost-shared practices.

More on administrative rules regulating polluted runoff (external site).

Best management practices and cost share conditions, Ch. NR 154

This rule identifies best management practices, technical standards and cost-share conditions that apply to the DNR, state agencies, governmental units, the board of regents and cost-share recipients when serving to provide or receive cost-share funds under ch. NR 153 or 155.

More on administrative rules regulating polluted runoff (external site).

Storm water discharge permits: Construction sites, NR 216.41 to 216.55

This rule establishes criteria and defines construction site activities that cause polluted runoff discharges (sediments etc.) such that a WPDES storm water permit is necessary. The mechanics of the permitting process are detailed in the rule, as are the required erosion control and stormwater management for construction sites. Separate subchapters of this rule address stormwater discharge permits for municipal and industrial activities.

More on administrative rules regulating polluted runoff (external site). 

Construction site erosion control model ordinance, Ch. NR 152

This rule includes two model ordinances. One is a model ordinance for construction site erosion control at sites where construction activities do not include the construction of a building. The other is a model ordinance for post-construction storm water management. The purpose of these model ordinances available to local units of government is to secure.

More on administrative rules regulating polluted runoff (external site).

Shoreland related rules

Shoreland management program, Ch. NR 115

NR 115 establishes the minimum statewide shoreland zoning standards for unincorporated areas. Individual counties may establish more stringent standards to reflect local natural resource assets and needs; no county can set standards lower than what is itemized in NR 115. The DNR can require adherence to specific standards and criteria for navigable water protection regulations and their administration. The directive within the state statute mandating statewide shoreland zoning standards specified that shoreland standards further the maintenance of safe and healthful conditions; prevent and control water pollution; protect spawning grounds, fish and aquatic life; control building sites, placement of structure and land uses and reserve shore cover and natural beauty. This rule, originally established in 1968, is in the process of being revised.

See WAL’s activity on these rule revisions on our shoreland policy page

More information about shoreland-wetland zoning (external site)

Flood plain management, Ch. NR 116

Municipalities are required by statute to adopt reasonable and effective floodplain zoning ordinances within their respective jurisdictions to regulate all floodplains where serious flood damage may occur within one year after hydraulic and engineering data adequate to formulate the ordinance becomes available. The legislature’s purpose in requiring floodplain zoning was to protect human life, health, and to minimize property damages and economic losses.

More information about floodplain management (external site)

Shoreland-wetland protection programs, city and village, Ch. NR 117

This rule establishes minimum standards for city and village shoreland-wetland
zoning ordinances to accomplish shoreland protection objectives outlined in state statute. Cities and villages are required by statute to adopt shoreland-wetland zoning ordinances within 6 months after receipt of final wetland inventory maps.

More information about NR 117 (external site)

Groundwater quantity rule

Groundwater quantity protection, Ch. NR 820

Wisconsin’s 2003 Groundwater Protection Act required DNR to promulgate rules to designate areas of the state (consistent within parameters itemized in statute) in which impacts from groundwater drawdown and pumpage are such that regional planning and management is necessary to avoid, minimize and manage future impacts. This rule also establishes review criteria applicable to high capacity well applications involving wells situated near springs, trout streams, outstanding resource waters, and exceptional resources waters, and involving groundwater withdrawals with high water loss.

The Groundwater Protection Act only applies to a limited set of waters: trout streams, Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs) and Exceptional Resource Waters (ERWs). This means that Wisconsin's current groundwater law fails to protect 99% of the state’s lakes, 97% of springs, 92% of rivers and streams, and 100% of wetlands.

Learn about WAL’s efforts to increase protection for groundwater sensitive lakes.

Water Quality and Public Waters Protection Rules

Navigable waterways, permits, general and individual, Ch. NR 310

This rule outlines procedures for processing exemption determinations, general permits and individual permits for activities in navigable waterways, while assuring that the public trust in Wisconsin waterways is maintained.

More information about waterways and wetlands permits. (external site)

Wisconsin pollutant discharge elimination system NR 217

The Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) is the state permitting system that regulates point source discharges, mandated by the Federal Clean Water Act. There are multiple rules to define other aspects of the permitting program. The purpose of the rule is to reduce the amount of pollutants discharged to surface waters by establishing effluent standards and limitations for pollutants in effluent discharged to surface waters of the state.

More information about WPDES permits. (external site)
Fish and wildlife, habitat structures, Ch. NR 323

This rule establishes reasonable procedures and limitations for exempt activities, general permits and individual permits for placement of fish and wildlife habitat structures in navigable waterways regulated by statute, in order to protect the public rights and interest in the navigable, public waters of the state.

More information about fish and wildlife habitat structure permits (external site).

Piers in navigable water, Ch. NR 326

This rule was established to provide consistent application of the statutes to the construction of piers, boat shelters, swim rafts and similar structures on the beds of navigable waterways as aids to navigation.

More information about piers, docks, and wharves (external site).

Dredging projects, regulation, Ch. NR 347

The purpose of this rule is to protect the public rights and interest in the waters of the state by specifying definitions, sediment sampling and analysis requirements, disposal criteria and monitoring requirements for dredging projects regulated under one or several state statutes.

More information about dredging permits (external site).

Sewerage systems, Private, Ch. Comm 83

The purpose of this Department of Commerce rule is to establish uniform standards and criteria for the design, installation, inspection and management of a private onsite wastewater treatment system, POWTS, so that the system is safe and will protect public health and the waters of the state. 

Wisconsin surface waters: Anti-degradation policy, Ch. NR 207

This chapter sets procedures applicable to proposed new or increased discharges to outstanding resource waters, exceptional resource waters, Great Lakes system waters, fish and aquatic life waters, and waters listed in NR 104.

More information on antidegration policy (external site). 

Grant Program Rulespolicy adminrules weeder

Lake management planning grants, Ch. NR 190

This rule establishes procedures for implementing a lake management planning grant program. Grants made under this program assist lake planning projects by: helping local organizations provide information and education on lakes and lake ecosystems, improving lake management assessment and planning, and by aiding in the selection of activities to prevent degradation of lakes and protect or improve the quality of lakes and their ecosystems. 

Aquatic invasive species control grants, Ch. NR 198

This rule establish procedures for awarding cost-sharing grants to public and private entities including local governmental units for the control of aquatic invasive species. Grants made under this program assist local governments and other interests to prevent and control the spread of aquatic invasive species in the waters of the state, provide information and education on aquatic invasive species topics, and assist in planning and conducting projects that will prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species into waters where they currently are not present, controlling and reducing the risk of spread from waters where they are present, and restoring native aquatic communities.

This rule was revised in 2008 (see WAL’s activity on this rule revision).

Lake monitoring contracts and citizen lake monitors, Ch. NR 192

This rule establishes administrative procedures for the lake monitoring contracts program and specifies the eligible activities and qualifications for participation in the statewide lake monitoring network. The statewide lake monitoring network provides quality, cost-effective lake data useful to federal, state and local lake management efforts on the use of lakes and the understanding of the natural ecosystem of lakes and the water quality of lakes. The purpose of the lake monitoring contract program is to provide training, equipment and support to a statewide network of citizens so that they can provide useful information for the protection and restoration of Wisconsin lakes.

More information on the citizen lake monitoring network (external site). 

Public inland lake protection and rehabilitation, Ch. NR 60

This chapter contains rules for the administration of the public inland lake protection and rehabilitation program established by ch. 33, Stats. These rules apply to projects undertaken by lake protection and rehabilitation districts which involve an application for state technical or financial aid.

Targeted runoff management grant program, Ch. NR 153

This rule establishes the administrative framework for the selection and implementation of projects under s. 281.65, Stats. This chapter promotes management of urban and rural nonpoint pollution sources in critical geographic locations where nonpoint source related water quality problems and threats are most severe and control is most feasible.

Nonpoint source water pollution abatement program, Ch. NR 155

This rule establishes administrative policies and procedures the grant program intended to provide funds to abate urban nonpoint source water pollution and storm water runoff. This chapter promotes management of urban runoff from existing urban areas, developing urban areas and areas of urban redevelopment.

Septic tank replacement or rehabilitation grant programs, Ch. Comm 87

This rule implements a financial assistance program to reimburse eligible property owners a portion of the cost of replacing or rehabilitating failing private onsite wastewater treatment systems (POWTS).

Flood plain and shoreland mapping grant program, Ch. NR 129

This rule establishes rules to administer the state grant program to provide financial assistance to counties, cities, and villages for topographical mapping of floodplain and shoreland areas to assist in the establishment and the administration of floodplain and shoreland zoning ordinances.


Devils Lake

Wisconsin's State Constitution provides the basic framework by which our citizens live. A particularly important component of the state Constitution for water lovers is the Public Trust Doctrine. There are also several especially important sections of the state statutes that are related to lakes and lake groups.

State policy decisions that can affect lakes can occur in the legislature (role of legislature in lake policy), administrative rule making (role of administrative rules), or at a more local level through county or municipal ordinances (role of local ordinances).

The Judicial branch (role of the courts) can also influence lake policy through decisions on individual court cases. The Executive branch (role of Executive branch) can play a role in lake policy.

Wisconsin Lakes focuses on state policy issues; however federal laws also play an important role in lake policy. Wisconsin must comply with Federal laws. The Clean Water Act is an example of an important federal law that states must implement. Some federal laws allow states to develop more restrictive standards than the federal baseline.

Smaller units of state government (towns, cities, villages, lake districts, sanitary districts, counties) must comply with state law. In some cases, local governments are allowed to adopt regulations than are stronger than statewide standards.

Public Trust Doctrine (Wisconsin State Constitution)

Wisconsin lakes and rivers are public resources, owned in common by all Wisconsin citizens under the state's Public Trust Doctrine, located within the state Constitution. It declares that all navigable waters are “common highways and forever free,” and held in trust by the Department of Natural Resources. Based on the state constitution, this doctrine has been further defined by case law and statute.

Wisconsin citizens have pursued legal and legislative action to clarify or change how this body of law is interpreted and implemented. As a result, the public interest, once primarily interpreted to protect public rights to transportation on navigable waters, has been broadened to include protected public rights to water quality and quantity, recreational activities, and scenic beauty.

All Wisconsin citizens have the right to boat, fish, hunt, ice skate, and swim on navigable waters, as well as enjoy the natural scenic beauty of navigable waters, and enjoy the quality and quantity of water that supports those uses.

Wisconsin law recognizes that owners of lands bordering lakes and rivers— “riparian” owners—hold rights in the water next to their property. These riparian rights include using the shoreline, the reasonable use of the water, and a right to build piers for navigation. However, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court has ruled that when conflicts occur between the rights of riparian owners and public rights, the public’s rights are primary and the riparian owner’s secondary.

Common Ways: the Public Trust Doctrine in Wisconsin (PDF 32 KB)

“Common highways and forever free”- Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine (PDF 42 KB)

Wisconsin's waters belong to everyone (external site)

Wisconsin Scenic Lake
Important Wisconsin State Statutes to Lakes

Wisconsin's State Statutes—which cannot be contrary to what is already outlined in the Constitution—provide detail on what municipalities, businesses, and citizens can legally do within state borders.

  • Chapter 30: navigable waters

    Chapter 31: regulates water level management or manipulation of navigable waters

  • Chapter 33: Lake District law

  • Chapter 60: Town Sanitary Districts

  • Chapter 19: Open meetings and records law

  • Chapter 181: nonprofit corporation statute

Look up Wisconsin State Statutes (external site)

Chapter 30: Navigable waters

Chapter 30 implements the Public Trust Doctrine by defining and regulating the activities of riparian property owners in or adjacent to public navigable waters. Chapter 30 regulates placement of structures, dredging, and similar activities; permits for these activities are handled by the Department of Natural Resources.

A stream is navigable if it has a bed and banks and you can float a canoe or other small craft in the stream at some time of the year, even if only during spring floods.

The riparian normally owns the streambed up to the center of the stream. The State owns the bed of natural lakes, while the riparian owns lakebeds on flowages or raised lakes, out to the original lakebed. In all cases, the water is public and held in trust by the State.

Waterway and wetland permits (external site)

Chapter 31: Regulates water level management or manipulation of navigable water

Chapter 31 of the Wisconsin Statutes outlines the regulations of dams and bridges affecting navigable waters. Some lakes have been created or their area expanded when dams have been installed. Establishing or changing levels on lakes or flowages will generally require DNR approval.

Chapter 31 protects your water rights as well as public safety by ensuring adequate planning and design of projects that may affect public waters.

Waterway and wetland permits (external site)

Chapter 33: Lake District law

Lake districts have a unique blend of powers and governance provisions, tailored to fit the needs of lake communities. Districts may be formed under Chapter 33 of the Wisconsin Statutes to undertake protection, rehabilitation and recreational improvement of public inland lakes.

Public inland lakes are defined as those lakes, reservoirs or flowages within the boundaries of the state which have public access. The access need not be developed with docking, launching or parking facilities. If a public user can reach the lake without trespassing on private land, the lake is a public inland lake.

More information about Lake Districts

Chapter 60: Town Sanitary Districts

Chapter 60 establishes a structure for the creation and operation of a town sanitary district. Wisconsin law makes special provisions for "lake sanitary districts." These are town sanitary districts which include at least 60% of the shoreline of a lake which does not have a public inland lake district. These lake sanitary districts have both sanitary district and lake district powers. (Lake districts can also obtain sanitary district powers.)

Chapter 19: Open Meetings and Records law

The Wisconsin open meetings law applies to all meetings of lake district and sanitary district commissioners (this includes telephone conference calls and informal meetings). The open meetings law has two basic requirements:


  1. Advance public notice of each meeting must be given,


  2. All business must be conducted in open session

    (unless an exemption applies).

    Public notice must be given at least twenty-four hours in advance of the meeting, unless for good cause such notice is impossible, in which case notice must be given no less than two hours prior to the meeting.

The board chairperson is responsible for giving notice of every meeting to any member of the news media that has requested such notice in writing, and the official newspaper or other news medium likely to give notice if no official paper exists, and by posting the notice in three places likely to be seen by the general public.

Meetings of the board must be held in a place which is reasonably accessible to all members of the public. Meetings must be open to all citizens at all times unless an exception applies.

While the open meetings law grants citizens the right to attend and observe meetings of the board of commissioners, it does not grant citizens a right to participate in those meetings. The board is free to determine for itself whether to allow citizen participation. The board is required to keep minutes for each meeting which include a record of motions and roll call votes. All records of the district must be available for public inspection.

Chapter 181: Nonprofit corporation statute

Many lake associations chose to file "Articles of Incorporation" in order to become a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit corporations enjoy a wide range of powers under Chapter 181 of the Wisconsin Statutes. These include, for example, the rights to:

  • Acquire property
  • Borrow money
  • Make contracts
  • Sue and be sued
  • Invest money
  • Make donations for public welfare
  • And other general powers.