Residents in the Lake Country Area have a great appreciation for wetlands, in particular as it applies to lake access and properties. Lakefront properties offer residents enviable access to Southeastern Wisconsin’s precious natural resources, while generous boat launch slips offer non-lake residents equal rights to enjoy. While water activities are definitely a highlight for lake living in the summer months, healthy waterways are also the cornerstone of the abundant wildlife in Southeastern Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulates all waters of the state, which includes wetlands, lakes, rivers, streams and ponds.

Homeowners moving onto waterfront property are generally well educated on regulations/ restrictions attached to their home project as dictated by the DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and other specific local ordinances. The presence of wetlands in the vicinity of waterfront properties is not always taken into consideration in the early development phases of projects and there are restrictions that may impede the project or present limitations to further projects. Often wetlands are difficult to define as many types are “wet” only part of the year and some never have standing water in them at all.

As found on the DNR website, wetlands in Wisconsin were defined by state legislature as “an area where water is at, near, or above the land surface long enough to be capable of supporting aquatic or hydrophytic (water-loving) vegetation and which has soils indicative of wet conditions.” There are many types of wetlands in Southeastern Wisconsin, ranging from forests and prairies to seasonal ponds, with their basic function varying along with type. The dynamic wetland ecosystems can support a variety of vegetation, provide critical habitats for many fish, birds and wildlife, offer flood protection, and serve as a filter to pollutants. Shoreline wetlands further act as an important barrier between the land and water, protecting from erosion.

It is estimated that more than half of Wisconsin’s wetlands have been destroyed by human intervention since the 1800s, and current regulations were put in place to protect the quality of our state’s waters. Regulations are imposed on many activities associated with a building project that proposes a wetlands impact including: filling, excavating, grading and mechanical clearing. As wetlands are not always obvious, it is important to identify likely areas on property currently or desired to own to understand limitations and plan accordingly.

The best course is to contact the DNR and ACOE early in the process to verify the presence of wetlands and understand the restrictions and necessary permits. Custom home builders are well versed on the application and permit process, and the DNR website provides a wealth of information regarding identification, restrictions and links to permit applications.