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New Study Aims to See If Big Waves Harm MN Lakes

Wakesurfing requires a large wake behind a boat. A study is underway to determine the possible impact of those big waves, and other recreational boating, on lake and shoreline health in Minnesota.  (Adobe Stock)
Wakesurfing requires a large wake behind a boat. A study is underway to determine the possible impact of those big waves, and other recreational boating, on lake and shoreline health in Minnesota. (Adobe Stock)
September 8, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- This fall, University of Minnesota researchers will study how regional lakes are being affected by large waves from recreational boating.

Groups like Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates have voiced concerns about eroding shorelines and damaged vegetation, and they believe it's connected to larger boats operating in sections of waterways that aren't suited for them.

Jeff Marr, associate director of engineering and facilities at the university's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, said there is no comprehensive research in this area, and his team wants to produce unbiased data.

Marr explained they'll measure the size and force of the waves, using sensors and cameras, "Not really focusing on a watercraft specifically, but looking at how waves, and waves of different magnitude, what their impacts are."

Some of the concern stems from the boats used for wakesurfing, although a variety of wave sources will be studied.

The Water Sports Industry Association supports more research, but has voiced concern that this study won't include its direct input. However, Marr said initial outreach was made to the water sports industry and other stakeholders, but the work will be independent.

He added that the lab hopes the findings will provide reliable information to inform policy decisions.

The water sports industry has been lukewarm about enhancing regulations on lakes, but it does promote educating boaters about responsible behavior.

To Jeff Forester, director of Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates, that's one area the groups can find common ground -- teaching all boat operators to be mindful of their surroundings.

"If I take a 16-foot Alumacraft with a 25-horsepower motor, and run it full tilt through two-and-a-half-feet of water or through a wild rice bed, I'm going to cause damage," Forester noted.

Forester's group opposed an industry-supported bill in the Minnesota Legislature that called for a 200-foot buffer from the shore, saying there wasn't enough evidence it would be sufficient.

The initial study results are expected next year. The research is being funded through a crowdsourcing campaign after attempts to secure grants fell short.

Disclosure: Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN