In a March 5 commentary “Responsible wakes on the lakes,” boat lift business owner Chris Bank supports legislation calling for 200-foot setbacks statewide. The problems associated with wake boats are well-documented. But when the boating industry comes calling at the Legislature to ask for a regulation to monitor itself, it’s a bit suspicious and needs a closer look.
Unlike other motorboats, wake boats are designed to create “massive wakes” that allow people to surf behind the boat. For the surfer, it’s pretty darn fun. But after the wake leaves the boat and the surfer behind, the fun ends and the lake and shoreline are hit with the safety and environmental impacts.
I live on a small, narrow lake — Lotus Lake in Chanhassen — that looks much like a river. Wakeboats love the lake because of its 2.5-mile run from end-to-end. Last summer we had approximately 30 wakeboats permanently on the lake, with more boats arriving via the public ramp. We might have five or more wake boats out at any one time, creating a nightmare for all others on the lake. Let me be clear: When wake boats are out, all other water activities stop.
Wake boat wakes continue to erode lakeshore property and destroy shore land vegetation critical for wildlife. The large waves stir up sediment that is needed to cover fish-breeding sites, and this sediment releases phosphorus, creating algae blooms. The wakes damage docks and moored boats. Even worse, the powerful 4- to 7-foot wakes knock people off their docks and out of their small boats, and make beaches unsafe for small children. I have two binders full of testimonials from people who have been injured by such wakes. In short, even responsibly operated wake boats are a recipe for trouble, and the wake boat industry knows it. And now the industry claims to have the solution. But not so fast.
The one-size-fits-all 200-foot setback in the industry-sponsored legislation will not protect our lakes from wake boat damage. This proposed standard comes from an industry-funded study that has never been peer-reviewed and is contradicted by nonpartisan, university-sponsored studies that scientifically confirm that wakeboats must operate at a setback distance of 1,000 feet from shore to avoid damage to lake quality, lakeshore integrity and near-shore wildlife habitat.
The state’s responsibility is to protect the lakes, not the wake boat manufacturers and owners. I urge the Legislature to stop the passage of HF 3770 and SF 3624. The issue needs more investigation of unbiased evidence on the effects of wake boat activity. For additional information, go to safewakes.org.
JoAnn Syverson started the nonprofit organization SafeWakes.org; its goal is to legally restrict wake boats to lakes that are a minimum of 2,000 feet wide and 16 feet deep.