Ruin Wisconsin's Waters Bill Diminishes Public Interest, Elevates Private Control, Upends 224-Year Practice
Walker's Senate Bill 24 intentionally and ideologically weakens the DNR's role as guardian of The Public Trust Doctrine - - the mandated supremacy of public water rights in Wisconsin- - a 224-year-old legacy principle enshrined in the State Constitution and affirmed by the State Supreme Court that dates to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
The DNR website on the matter explains it, for now, the italics are the agency's, and if you take away one thought from this outrageous attack on the state's heritage, it's this:
"A little fill here and there may seem to be nothing to become excited about. But one fill, though comparatively inconsequential, may lead to another, and another, and before long a great body may be eaten away until it may no longer exist. Our navigable waters are a precious natural heritage, once gone, they disappear forever," wrote the Wisconsin State Supreme Court justices in their opinion resolving Hixon v. PSC.(2)Also from the DNR website:
As a result, the public interest, once primarily interpreted to protect public rights to transportation on navigable waters, has been broadened to include protected public rights to water quality and quantity, recreational activities, and scenic beauty.(1)
All Wisconsin citizens have the right to boat, fish, hunt, ice skate, and swim on navigable waters, as well as enjoy the natural scenic beauty of navigable waters, and enjoy the quality and quantity of water that supports those uses.(2)
Wisconsin law recognizes that owners of lands bordering lakes and rivers - "riparian" owners - hold rights in the water next to their property. These riparian rights include the use of the shoreline, reasonable use of the water, and a right to access the water.
However, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court has ruled that when conflicts occur between the rights of riparian owners and public rights, the public's rights are primary and the riparian owner's secondary.(1)