A lengthy battle over inches on Lake Koshkonong
NEWVILLE A state Supreme Court ruling slated later this year could be the end of the road for a long legal battle between the Rock-Koshkonong Lake District and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources over water levels at Lake Koshkonong.
The argument—and the 7.2 inches of water around which is revolves—has sharply divided landowners, businesses, residents and environmentalists for years. It is about lake access and business, tourism and environmental interests.
The Rock-Koshkonong Lake District wants to use the Indianford Dam, which it owns, to raise the lake level 7.2 inches during low-water periods in the summer. The dam and rainfall control the lake's depth, and the DNR regulates the dam's operations.
The case has been roiling since 2003, when the district requested that the DNR allow higher water in the summer, along with a request for the DNR to end the practice of drawing down the lake over the winter.
Lake district members, some of them lakefront property owners and businesses linked to boating tourism on the 10,500 acre lake, want the DNR to consider the impact a higher lake level would have on tourism revenue and the recreational value of their properties.
The DNR concluded in a 2005 study that the lake level should not increase. The lake district appealed the ruling, but a court upheld the DNR's decision in 2008.
An appeals court, basing its decision partly on earlier DNR findings, in 2011 found that increased water levels at Lake Koshkonong would worsen shore erosion and cause a loss of wetland habitat at the lake.
The court also upheld a DNR finding that state statutes don't require the agency to consider economic impact on property owners when establishing target lake levels on impounded lakes.
It's a palatable argument for environmentalists and duck hunt clubs around the lake who have a stake in preserving the lake's adjacent wetlands.
Opponents of the rulings say the DNR overreached its authority by taking the side of just one group of lake users.
Most officials involved in the case expect the state Supreme Court to register a final decision in the case sometime this summer or fall.
Lake District Chairman Brian Christianson has said the lake district is resigned to a final decision, win lose or draw.
And though it remains steadfast in its quest to raise lake levels, the lake district also is building inroads with the DNR and federal agencies in other plans to improve the depth and quality of the lake, including lake dredging projects.
A majority of lake district voters supported taking the case all the way to the supreme court if necessary during a vote at a 2008 annual meeting.
The argument is a battle of inches, but what's at stake, both sides say, is a delicate balance between the health of the lake environment and the property rights of those who live and work on the largest tourism lake in Rock County.