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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : outdoors : outdoors August 17, 2017

6/16/2017 7:24:00 AM
The lake where you live
Water quality: What's it worth?
Ted Rulseh

Last year a new couple bought a cottage along my private road here on Birch Lake. I asked the husband, "Why this lake?" He replied, "The water is so clear."

That speaks volumes about the importance of lake water quality. We'd all rather live or vacation on a lake that's clean and clear, with a healthy fishery, no nuisance weeds and algae, no invasive species, and great Northwoods scenery.

In fact, it turns out people will pay a premium for property on such lakes. So when it comes to best practices and public policies promoting lake protection, there's more to it than being a good steward, more to it than hugging trees. There's self-interest at work, along with concern for one's neighbors. That's because things we do on our properties which tend to degrade the lake can hurt our own property value, our own net worth, and the effects extend to every property owner on the shoreline.

If you doubt this, consider a presentation given by Dave Noel and Quita Sheehan at the June 9 meeting of lake group leaders and members from six counties, held at Nicolet College. Under the title, "Economic Value of Lakes and Rivers in Oneida and Vilas counties," they used data to back up the connection between lake quality and property value.

They cited two studies from Wisconsin. The Tainter Lake study spanning 1999 to 2010, looked at 3,186 real estate transaction on seven lakes. It found that properties on lakes with good water quality had values two to three times higher than those on lakes with poor-quality water.

Another study on Delevan Lake in Southeast Wisconsin, extending from 1987 to 2003, found improved water quality after an extensive lake rehabilitation program led to 70 percent higher property values than on nearby lakes which had not been restored.

Of course, to a large extent we know about this intuitively. Unless we inherited a lake home or cabin from family, we chose a lake on which to vacation, and ultimately buy property, in large part for the quality of the resource. And according to various studies, that quality includes all the attributes mentioned above.

So it becomes pretty clear that when we do things like apply best practices to limit runoff of nutrients and sediment into the water, install buffer strips of natural vegetation along the shoreline, limit the cutting of trees to preserve natural lakeshore scenery, and do our part to help prevent the introduction of invasive species, we aren't just doing the environment a favor. We're helping to sustain the attributes we treasure, and to build and sustain a financial legacy for ourselves and our families.

In the bargain, we're helping uphold the Wisconsin Constitution's Public Trust Doctrine, which says the waters of the state belong to us all, not just those of us fortunate enough to have lake properties. That means we're helping create a legacy for everyone who enjoys our lakes. So there are lots of great reasons to feel good about doing what we can to protect the waters.

Ted Rulseh, who lives on Birch Lake in Harshaw, is the author of the "The Lake Where You Live," a blog where readers can learn about the lakes they love - the history, geology, biology, chemistry, physics, magic, charm. Visit lakewhereyoulive.blogspot.com. Ted may be reached at trulseh@tjrcommunications.com.

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