Advocacy group prefers science before regulation when it comes to wake boats

Wake surfing has become popular for water sports enthusiasts of all ages.

 head of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates (MLR) acknowledges that wake board boats are a marvel of engineering. "They are the fastest-growing segment of the watercraft industry and a growing water recreational opportunity," pointed out Jeff Forester, executive director of the St. Paul advocacy group. 

But the boats are also generating controversy by eroding shorelines, damaging docks, lifts and watercraft on shore, impacting waterfowl nests and transporting aquatic invasive species in residual ballast water. 

The MLR group maintains that the thrust from a wake boat can go down 16 feet, destroying aquatic plants and churning up sediments. 

Two bills in the Legislature want to negate those impacts. The MLR, however, believes the language is premature. 

In an email to Scott Costello, White Bear Lake Conservation District board member, Forester urged action in the way of a letter writing/email campaign to legislators asking them to wait. 

The legislation, HF1606, "Wake surfing regulated on Minnesota waters," and its companion bill, SF1639, states a person may not wake surf on a lake or bay smaller than 50 acres or at greater than slow-no wake speed within 200 feet of a shoreline. 

The watercraft used to wake surf must also be powered with a propeller that is forward of the transom or swim platform or powered by a jet drive. 

Rep. Erin Koegel, (DFL-37A) from Spring Lake Park, co-authored the bill with Coon Rapids Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-36A). Sen. Mark Johnson, (R-01) of East Grand Forks, introduced the Senate version. Both bills have been referred to the respective Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy committees. 

According to Forester, the water sports industry is urging support of the legislation, which he said "lacks clear scientific evidence that 200 feet is far enough from sensitive shorelines to prevent erosion. 

"Scientists do not know if these measures would reduce ecological and private property damage. No one does," wrote the executive director. "Now is not the time to push regulations that may soon prove untenable." 

The advocacy group is asking lawmakers to wait for the science and use data to set best practices for operation of the powerful watercraft. That science, not yet conclusive, is underway at the University of Minnesota St. Anthony Falls laboratory. 

The conservation district helped fund the one-year study with a $2,000 donation last summer. The university used crowdfunding to finance the research. The initiative will look at the height and energy of waves and depth and force of propeller wash to understand and quantify impacts. The information can then help determine how best to manage and protect lakes and rivers. 

Costello asked the board at its March 16 monthly meeting if it wanted to state a position regarding the legislation. Birchwood representative Susie Mahoney felt it made sense to wait until research results are released; Chairman Bryan DeSmetDeSmet, White Bear Township, agreed there wasn't adequate information to take a position. The board decided to do nothing at this time. 

— Debra Neutkens

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