Agency Veteran Challenges ANR Wake Boat Proposal 

Bob Popp, a 30-year veteran botanist of Vermont’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, weighs in on the need to manage wake boats — he recommends a ban on Vermont’s lakes and ponds. Read Bob’s comments to the Lakes and Ponds Division of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) and send us back your comments. 

Bob Popp eating lunch atop of Mad River ski lift in Waitsfield (Photo Erica Heilman / Vermont Public).

Dear Lakes & Ponds Staff:

I recently retired as the state botanist in the Fish & Wildlife Department for over 30 years. In that time period I have reviewed many permits for aquatic nuisance control and stream alteration. So be assured that I totally understand the concept of multiple use and the need to accommodate multiple users of our aquatic (and terrestrial) resources.  It is and will always be a balancing act to accommodate multiple and often conflicting uses. I appreciate the hard decisions that your staff have made and continue to make that often result in intense criticism of the Lakes & Ponds Program.

I have reviewed the draft rule governing wake boats and have concluded that on occasion a proposed use is so onerous that it should not be allowed. The potential damage from wake boats to other lake users, shoreline owners and the environment can hardly be justified to accommodate the resulting disturbance by a small number of users.  Aside from the impact to shoreline property and other users, I worry most about environmental impacts resulting from the unnatural turbulence that churn up bottom sediments. This would result in increased eutrophication from buried phosphorous and other nutrients and also sediment deposition on leaves of submersed aquatic plants reducing their photosynthetic capacity.  I’m also assuming there would be similar impacts to fish and macroinvertebrates but these are not my expertise.  Even allowing wake boat use within 500 or 1,000 ft of shore and beyond certain depths doesn’t solve the concerns. Although it might lessen the impact to the environment, it really creates another unfunded mandate for the state to enforce these limits. I think it safe to assume that there are no staff available for this aspect and you would largely rely on the honor system.  Another enforcement nightmare would be restricting movement of the boats among lakes in the state so as not to further the spread of aquatic invasives. 

The simple solution is just to ban the use of wake boats outright on all inland lakes, i.e. other than Champlain and Memphremagog.  There comes a time when the state has to just say no after weighing all the evidence. I acknowledge this will be difficult and that you are undoubtedly receiving lots of pressure from the wake boat users and industry. I draw a parallel to Vermont’s bold decision to ban billboards along our interstate. Although it was highly controversial at the time, it has served the state well over time. 

Thank you for considering these comments. 

Sincerely, Bob Popp

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