Forget Vikings-Packers. The latest border rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin challenges the very essence of the North Star state.
Wisconsin is claiming that it has more lakes than we do.
“Wisconsin, many people may not be aware, actually has 15,000 freshwater lakes,” Sara Meaney, secretary-designate of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, said last month in an interview on a Milwaukee radio station.
“More than Minnesota?” host John Mercure asked.
“More than Minnesota,” Meaney replied. “Absolutely. We win. We win.”
Not so fast.
Most Minnesotans know that this is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It’s right there on our license plates, which have carried the words “10,000 Lakes” since 1950.
In fact, we actually have more than that. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says we have 11,842 lakes of more than 10 acres.
And that’s where Wisconsin’s claim fails to hold water.
Wisconsin’s DNR says the Badger State has 15,074 documented lakes — but they don’t set a minimum size. What they claim as a lake might be viewed as nothing more than a cute little pond over here in Minnesota.
But cut Wisconsin some slack. Even scientists who study water haven’t established a clear definition of what constitutes a lake, said Amy Myrbo, a scientist with the Limnological Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Limnology is the study of non-oceanic bodies of water.
“There is no size or depth boundary between a pond or a lake,” said Myrbo, whose name translates from Swedish as “living by the lake.”
“There are not specific definitions of any of these terms,” she added. “As scientists and as humans, we like to put a definition on things. But it’s all kind of a continuum.”
By other measures, though, it’s clear that Minnesota outlakes Wisconsin. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has used satellite photos to compile a database of every body of water in the United States larger than a quarter-acre; they’ve dubbed them “lake/pond features.”
According to Stephen Aichele, a USGS geographer, Minnesota has 124,400 lakes and ponds; Wisconsin has 81,046.
If you count lake/pond features larger than one acre, Minnesota has 43,041, compared to 22,973 in Wisconsin.
“Based on the data in the National Hydrological Data Set, Minnesota has more lakes at every size we checked,” Aichele said.
In fact, he added, Minnesota actually may be shortchanging itself. Aichele’s data shows that there are 14,444 lakes in Minnesota 10 acres in size or larger. Wisconsin has 6,176 lakes that are 10 acres or larger.
The difference between the federal and state tally of 10-acre lakes in Minnesota might be explained by the seasons, Aichele said.
The USGS typically does its satellite imaging early in the year, before trees leaf out. Some bodies of water that show up as greater in size than 10 acres in the spring may shrink as the weather warms and some of the water evaporates or soaks into the ground.
Wisconsin PolitiFact recently tackled the question and came down on Minnesota’s side, rating Meaney’s claim “false.”
Myrbo agreed, saying, “I think Wisconsin’s been overcounting, that’s clear.”
So, even sticking to the Minnesota DNR’s smaller lakes tally, it’s enough to declare a win for the North Star state, said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota, the state tourism agency.
“When we say we are the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes,’ we are being modest,” Edman said. “We actually have 11,842 lakes that are 10 acres or more. And you know what? We love them all.”
Wisconsin’s not ready to give in, however.
“What it comes down to is, what is the definition of a lake?” said Craig Trost, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “And that’s where we get two different numbers.
“We’ll let Minnesota count its lakes and its Super Bowl rings any way they want to.”