Can Chanhassen’s Lotus Lake accommodate wake surfing, as well as other recreational watercraft, fishing and swimming?
Dozens of residents attended a June 24 Chanhassen City Council meeting and work session to weigh in on the issue.
Some Lotus Lake residents say deep waves created by wake surfing boats erode the shoreline and make it less safe for other recreational users.
Wake surfing enthusiasts say that Lotus Lake is a public recreational lake and shouldn’t be banned or regulated, outside of normal Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recreational boating rules.
Wake surfing is similar to wake boarding behind a boat. But wake surfers use a tow rope only to get up on the board, then release and surf freely on the wave created by the boat. Wake surfing boats have ballasts filled with water to weigh down the back of the boat, to create bigger waves.
At the work session, Mayor Elise Ryan explained that the wake surfing was first brought to the City Council’s attention in February, by Lotus Lake resident JoAnn Syverson. Syverson addressed the work session, as did Laurie Susla, president of the Lotus Lake Conservation Alliance (LLCA).
Syverson has asked the council to create an ordinance regulating wake surfing on Lotus Lake.
“I am not asking you to regulate or ban wakeboards, but the sport of wake surfing,” Syverson said, at the work session.
“Surfing wakes need special restrictions, because of their increased energy above and below the surface of the water which causes property damage, as shown by the Carver Park shoreline damage, and causes injuries to other people on the lake. I am asking that you uphold the law, which ensures all users the right to the lake,” she said.
Lotus Lake Conservation Alliance President Laurie Susla, also expressed concerns about wake surfing boats at the work session.
“Wake surfing boats are big and heavy, built to produce very large waves, causing shoreline erosion and creating recreational issues,” Susla said. “The LLCA has been receiving complaints for the past three years,” Susla said, which prompted the LLCA to conduct a survey earlier this year. There were 96 responses, of which 71 came from lakeshore households.
“The no’s are very adamant and strongly held,” Susla said. “The surfboard owners are keen on it, the non-boat owners are not. It’s split down clearly between boaters and nonboaters.”
Susla said the key takeaways from the survey are: Most boaters and lake residents are unaware of current boating regulations on Lotus Lake — the 100-foot wake zone and the time restrictions for motor boats on the lake, one hour after sunset to sunrise.
“Our members have learned a lot about each other,” Susla said. “That education has been beneficial. Boating etiquette means keeping big wake boats to the center of the lake, not cutting between boats.” Susla pointed out that all recreational users should also use common sense when wake surfing boats are present.
After the survey, the LLCA formed a task force, Susla said. One of its recommendations to work with the city to install a sign at the boat launch posting DNR regulations.
Jill Sims, a boating lobbyist representing the National Marine Manufacturers Association, spoke at the council meeting. “Minnesota is the No. 2 boating state in the nation,” she said, adding “Minnesota doesn’t have private lakes. We have public lakes with public access to make sure everyone has the opportunity to use the lakes.”
At the work session, Chanhassen City Administrator Todd Gerhardt outlined how DNR laws and enforcement work.
In Minnesota, the DNR’s boating regulations and guidelines for 2019 cover recreational boats and personal watercraft, like jet skis, as well as water skiing and wakeboarding. The DNR sets water boat safety laws; the county sheriff offices enforce them.
The city of Chanhassen contracts its policing with the Carver County Sheriff’s Office for all misdemeanors by the city’s liaison officer, Gerhardt said. More serious crimes are taken on and investigated by the Sheriff’s Office.
“Water patrol is a baseline service provided with the city’s policing contract,” Gerhardt said. “If we wanted more enforcement, we would request more water patrol, but they (Sheriff’s Office) would determine if there is a need,” Gerhardt said.
The council didn’t take any action on the issue at its meeting.
“It’s not going away in our city or our state. We will continue the conversation among the Lotus Lake Conservation Alliance (LLCA) and homeowners. The conversation is not closed,” Ryan said, at the work session.
Councilor Jerry McDonald admitted limited knowledge of wake surfing and the types of boats used for it, and suggested the council learn more about it before making any decisions.
“We shouldn’t create laws that are more restrictive than the DNR’s,” Gerhardt said, “and to have the DNR as the rule maker and the county as the law enforcement agency, because every lake is different and you want to be consistent.”
Following the meeting, Gerhardt followed up with a letter to all who attended the meeting. The letter noted that the council would defer taking action “until the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) creates a law or regulation that prohibits surfing/wake boats on Minnesota lakes or rivers.” He also noted that fliers regarding rules and regulations will be distributed to those launching boats on Chanhassen lakes.
Andrew Weigman, of Mound, describes himself as the local leader of the wake surfing community. He’s currently organizing the 2019 Minnesota Wake Surfing Championship on Lake Minnetonka, which takes place at Surfside Park in Cook’s Bay, July 17-20. This will be its fifth year.
“Wake surfing is the fastest and most popular form of recreation,” Weigman said, in a phone interview. He’s familiar with the wake surfing issue at Lotus Lake.
“It’s unfortunate that these residents chose to live on a recreational lake,” Weigman said. “They’re unjustly targeting the most popular form of recreation … if you regulate one type of boat, are you going to start regulating others? The only people who suffer are families who made a significant investment. Instead of having a cabin, they’ve invested with a wake surfing boat. It’s a sport the whole family can do which is something.
“Compared to wake boarding, it’s a lot less dangerous,” Weigman said. “You’re going 11 mph instead of 21 mph. My dad had a ski boat and we took up wake surfing because we were tired of getting hurt. You can be on the boat and talk to family because the speed of the boat is half of what it is for wake board and skiing.
He feels wake surfing is being unfavorably targeted at Lotus Lake.
“I’m looking at a group of people who chose to live on a recreational lake,” Weigman said. “Then why are they targeting a form of recreation; that’s the crux of why I’m fired up …
“Is it because of wake surfing boats; or is it that a younger generation are now wake surfing?” Weigman asked. “Why are folks who chose to live on a recreational lake, protesting recreation?”
“How I would solve the problem is by informing all boaters and all those participating in wake surfing to obey the same rules. This is more than just the punk kids. Like in any group, there’s always a small faction that is uninformed, or badly behaved.”
Daryl Ellison, a supervisor with the West Metro Area Fisheries office in Shakopee, has been aware of the wake surfing controversy for several years.
“I’ve been aiming to bring it up with the DNR,” Ellison said. “It’s been on my hit list for years. I know the damage that is going on.”
He is getting more complaints from homeowners about big boats on small lakes.
“They have great drafts and increase the chance for erosion and damaging for habitat,” he said.
“These small bodies of water — the increased size of boats and the activities that have increased over time — these lakes just cannot handle this kind of activity with higher water levels, without erosion. These things didn’t go on 50 years. We can love our lakes to death and this is one example. People want to wake surf on small lakes. Even Lake Minnetonka can’t handle shoreline erosion.”
However, Ellison notes that the lakes are public waters. “The public has legal access to public waters. It’s up to the local government to make changes if there is a problem.”