Over the course of this winter, we received many questions regarding the use of new technology and new activities on our inland lakes. In brief, the ways that inland lake users recreate is diversifying, while increasing in frequency and volume of users.
Traditionally, one might divide watercraft users on Michigan inland lakes into pleasure cruisers idling around the perimeter of the lake in a counterclockwise direction, and water skiers in the ski course…an activity often done at off-peak hours, for a short duration and with a watercraft that produces the smallest wake possible for its size and speed.
Newer towable activities such as tubing, wakeboarding, wake surfing and foiling are frequent occurrences on our lakes. The watercraft that caters to these activities and the manner in which they are used generate large wakes at slow speeds, and may have impacts on how and when our lakes are used to maximize the safe use and enjoyment of all user groups. The question we have been faced with is: how can regulations keep up with current trends to ensure safe use of the lake, when all inland lakes are slightly different?
The Department of Natural Resources has long maintained “Special Local Watercraft Controls”, which are lake-by-lake regulations searchable by county (available at: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79136_79772_79773_83491—,00.html). These special controls are what allows the DNR and local municipalities to set up specific “no wake zones” for each individual lake, as well as general hours to operate a vehicle at high speed. While these local controls have not been limited from containing more specific use regulations, the quiet passage of PUBLIC ACT NO. 72 of H.B. No. 5463 in April of 2020 may have a substantial effect on narrowly tailored use regulations on a lake-by-lake basis.
Now codified as MCL 324.80112, there is a formal process for local municipalities to request the assistance of the DNR in creating special local ordinances on waters subject to their jurisdiction. The DNR may, on its own, conduct an investigation on the use of vessels, water skis, water sleds, aquaplanes, surfboards, or other contrivances on the lake in question. If the local municipality follows the procedure required by the law and submits a resolution to the DNR, there shall be an investigation on whether the current use of the waterbody has.
While there are numerous steps involved in following the process defined by MCL 324.80112, what the statute represents is an acknowledgement by the legislature that lake use is changing, and that individual and specific measures must be taken to keep each lake safe for a broad array of users. Whether you represent a municipality, or individual lake users, please do not hesitate to contact us about these updates in the law.