Bob Bob: A Fish and Wildlife veteran challenges the agency’s wake boat proposal
This commentary was written by Bob Bob, who has worked for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife for 30 years. He recently retired from his role as state botanist.
I recently retired as a state botanist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife where I worked for over 30 years. In that time period, I reviewed numerous permits for water nuisance control and river course changes. So make sure I fully understand the concept of multiple use and the need to accommodate multiple users of our water (and land) resources.
It is and always will be a balancing act to accommodate multiple and often conflicting uses. I appreciate the difficult decisions the Department of Environmental Conservation’s water quality staff have made, and continue to make, which often lead to harsh criticism of the program.
I have reviewed the draft rule governing wake boats and have concluded that sometimes the proposed use is so burdensome that it should not be permitted. The potential damage caused by wake boats cannot be justified to other lake users, beach owners and the environment to accommodate the resulting inconvenience by a small number of users.
(Editor’s note: The Vermont Department of Conservation has proposed not allowing wake boats to operate within 500 feet of shorelines, in less than 20 feet of water, or on lakes smaller than 50 acres.)
Aside from the impact on coastal properties and other users, what I am most concerned about are the environmental impacts resulting from unnatural disturbances that create bottom sediments. This would lead to increased eutrophication from buried phosphorus and other nutrients as well as sediment deposition on the leaves of submerged aquatic plants, reducing their ability to photosynthesize. I also assume that there would be similar effects on fish and macroinvertebrates, but that is not my experience.
Even allowing wake boat use 500 or 1,000 feet from shore and beyond certain depths does not resolve concerns. Although this may reduce the impact on the environment, it actually creates another unfunded mandate for the state to enforce these limits. I think it’s safe to assume that there will be no staff available for this aspect and that the Department of Conservation will largely rely on the honor system.
Another implementation nightmare is restricting the movement of boats between lakes in the state so as not to increase the spread of aquatic invasions.
The simple solution is to completely ban the use of wake boats on all inland lakes, except Champlain and Memphremagog. There comes a time when the state has to say no after considering all the evidence.
I acknowledge that this will be difficult and that the Department is undoubtedly receiving a lot of pressure from boat users and the industry. I compare that to Vermont’s bold decision to ban billboards along our state highway. Although it was highly controversial at the time, it served the country well over time.