The Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds applauds the work that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has
done in creating this draft rule. The regulation of wake sports is a matter we have long urged the Department to implement. We are pleased that the risk of aquatic invasive species (AIS) spread prompted the DEC to include the home lake requirement in the proposed rule.
However, concerns remain that the DEC’s proposed 500 foot shoreline buffer is
not adequate to protect lake users and lake shorelines from the powerful waves generated by wake surfing and that consideration should be given to enlarging the buffer zone.
Thus far, the best scientific study, which is from the St. Anthony Falls Lab at the University of Minnesota, suggests that a buffer zone of at least 600 feet from shore will attenuate the waves produced by wake boats to the same peak power as those created by conventional motorboats at 200 feet from shore.
However, the rule does not include an expansion of the requirement that these boats maintain a 200 ft distance from other vessels and swimmers. Given that the study shows that 425-600 feet are required to attenuate waves to the same level as waves from conventional motorboats, we ask the DEC to consider requiring wake boats while operating in wake mode to maintain a distance of at least 500 feet from any person or vessel in the water in order to ensure the safety of all lake users.
This study, completed in 2022, only tested two wake boats of 450 horsepower. As of this writing, newer wake boats with engines of over 650 horsepower are on the market and may already be operating on Vermont lakes. The greater horsepower is an indicator of a heavier boat. That greater weight allows the boat to displace more water, resulting in much larger waves with potentially greater safety hazards to other lake users and causing a significant increase in shoreline erosion. In the interests of safety and recognizing that much harm could be done by these larger boats before a modification of this rule could be implemented, we urge the DEC to consider modifying the proposed rule to enlarge the shoreline buffer to 1000 feet.
As the boating industry continues to market larger and more powerful boats, the Federation is concerned that even with establishing a larger buffer many of our lakes may suffer shoreline damage and other negative impacts. To protect lakes that will permit wake sports, it is worth considering only allowing wake boats below a specific size, weight, and horsepower to operate in Vermont. We thus urge the DEC to carefully track the size and power of wake boats as part of the home lake registration process. Should larger or more powerful wake boats register for a Vermont inland lake, we strongly recommend that the DEC move quickly to revisit and modify the final rule to ensure the safety of lake users, and the protection of lake ecosystems and shorelines.
Every lake is unique. The DEC website states: “Each Vermont lake and pond formed under unique conditions in diverse locations; no two lakes and ponds are alike.” Although a “one size fits all” rule such as this, can set a minimum standard, it does not necessarily work for all, given the many differences among lakes and ponds. We, therefore, urge the DEC to create a streamlined process for individual lakes to petition for exemptions to, or modifications of, the final rule, including prohibitions when necessary, and to ensure such petitions are addressed expeditiously. The Federation is fully committed to working with individual lakes and lake associations to support them in crafting modifications to these rules that will fit the particular circumstances of their lakes.
In closing, we want to recognize and thank the DEC staff and especially the staff of the Lakes and Ponds Program for their work in researching and synthesizing the science and data related to this issue. We also want to recognize and thank the petitioners who have worked diligently over several years to gather the information and to educate all of us on this issue. This matter is complicated with differing and sometimes conflicting opinions within our communities. However, all are in full agreement that maintaining public safety and preserving and protecting Vermont’s lakes and ponds for this and future generations is paramount.