Rock-Koshkonong wants to make slow/no-wake level consistent across county
The Rock-Koshkonong Lake District is asking the Rock County Board to set uniform standards for slow/no-wake orders on the Rock River.
Lake district Chairman Brian Christianson said the district wants new standards because the current system is "arbitrary" and leaves boaters unable to do more than putt along stretches of the river and Lake Koshkonong for days at a time during high water—often during the heart of the boating and tourism season.
The lake district seeks a countywide standard that would set slow/no-wake at flood "action stage," which the National Weather Service lists as a foot below true flood stage.
When the water drops below action stage, the slow/no-wake restrictions would be lifted.
Christianson said that would shorten the amount of time it normally takes to remove slow/no-wake orders.
It also would help pave the way for the district to use the Indianford Dam to raise water levels at Lake Koshkonong—a plan that's tied up in a court case against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and is headed to the state Supreme Court.
County ordinances give the sheriff's office authority to set and remove slow/no-wake orders.
The sheriff's office generally handles the orders at the request of townships and municipalities—some of which have their own ordinances and guidelines on slow/no-wake—but the county's ordinance lists no numerical standard for water levels.
During high water, Christianson said, the system creates a patchwork of slow/no-wake guidelines along the river. He said it's difficult for boaters to know when they're in a slow/no-wake area and when they're not.
"It creates confusion. It affects fisherman and recreational boaters, both out-of-state people and year-round residents, and it discourages navigation of the river and the lake," Christianson said.
The lake district last year filed a petition with the county asking it to add "objective numerical standards" to its slow/no-wake ordinance. Rock County Corporation Counsel Jeff Kuglitsch said the county's public safety and justice committee could take up a new draft of the ordinance in September.
Kuglitsch said the draft ordinance recommends slow/no-wake orders when the river is above 7 1/2 feet near Lake Koshkonong, and above 6 1/2 feet in the southern part of county.
The 7 1/2-foot recommendation for Lake Koshkonong came from the town of Fulton. The township overlaps the lake district and has authority to make slow/no-wake recommendations on parts of the Rock River between the Newville Bridge and Stone Farm Road.
Christianson said the lake district believes the town's recommendation is too low, especially given studies that show the river tends to recede more slowly than it rises.
The lake district instead wants countywide slow/no-wake standards set at flood "action stage," which at Lake Koshkonong is 9 feet. That's 1 1/2 feet higher than the town of Fulton's slow/no-wake recommendation.
Christianson said the lake district's request is significant because it would protect the district's interests in its court battle to raise water levels at Lake Koshkonong. He said setting slow/no-wake at flood "action stage" would give the lake district a buffer to raise lake levels.
On the other hand, Christianson said, if the county sets a 7 1/2-foot slow/no-wake standard—the town of Fulton's recommendation—then the district would be unable to raise water levels without facing the constant threat of slow/no-wake orders.
Town of Fulton Chairman Evan Sayre said he believes that water levels at flood "action stage" are too high for
full-speed boat traffic on the river. He called the lake district's recommendation "irresponsible."
"You're talking 9 feet of water. That's when you get out the sandbags," he said.
Sayre said the town of Fulton's benchmark for slow/no-wake has been set at 7 1/2 feet for years. He said the rule is based on Wisconsin DNR flood guidelines and is intended to protect seawalls, piers and other property along the river.
Sayre said he believes the lake district is pushing a plan that puts a court case and the interests of boaters ahead of the rights of property owners along the river.
"It's just a political arm-wrestling match. There's no validity to it unless you're somebody who wants to rip around the river in a boat when the water's high," Sayre said.
Christianson said he believes slow/no-wake orders shouldn't be used to curb
noisy boat traffic or to protect people's piers during high water.
"People don't realize that it (slow/no-wake) impacts businesses and other people that live on the lake and that live on the river," he said.