Lake Tips: User Conflicts and Use Plans

As the population of the United States increases, so do the pressures on all of our natural resources, including lakes. Lakes provide habitats for plants, animals and birds, while offering us recreational opportunities, irrigation water for crops, hydroelectric power generation and drinking water supplies. By providing for such a variety of uses, it's no wonder conflicts arise between and within different groups of lake users. Among recreational lake users, personal watercraft ("jet skis") are a current point of controversy.

Conflicts in multi-use recreational lakes often stem from incompatible social and aesthetic values. They escalate when one or both sides of an issue fail to understand the values, beliefs and attitudes of the other.

Although conflict is not pleasant, appropriately channeled, it can result in innovative solutions. Two key steps for resolving conflict are to analyze the nature of a conflict and find common ground between opposing sides. For more information, refer to CTIC's guidebook on Managing Conflict: A Guide for Watershed Partnerships.

Avoiding Conflicts
By developing a lake-use plan, you often can avoid conflicts that naturally arise from incompatible lake uses. Such a plan focuses on how a particular lake can meet the need of multiple users. The plan considers all potential lake interactions'recreational, ecological, agricultural, economic, social and political. The goal is to protect and improve the usefulness of the lake for all interests.

As you may imagine, developing a lake-use plan is no easy task. Key to making such a plan work is to involve all interested parties. While the plan could be initiated by an organized lake association in cooperation with local, regional or state natural resource agencies, it is important that interested individuals and groups are invited to work toward an environmentally and economically balanced lake that benefits all. It is important that the lake-use plan be flexible and dynamic'able to respond to changing needs in the lake-user community.

About the Lead Planner...
The lead planner, often a representative from a natural resource agency or local government, should be prepared to moderate the planning sessions, allow debate, but ultimately keep the group focused on the task at hand'producing an integrated and workable lake use plan. Planners must be able to effectively facilitate this group process, try to get all interested parties to participate, and communicate clearly with people of diverse backgrounds'technical and non-technical. The planner needs to keep a vision of the desired outcome of the planning effort.

Three Phases of Lake-Use Planning:
Traditionally, the three phases of lake-use planning include development, implementation and evaluation. Make sure you document all decisions made during each stage of development of the lake-use plan.

Start development of the plan by getting participants to define and rank lake concerns. Gather and analyze information and data on each concern and consider any necessary re-ranking. Once the concerns are ranked, determine realistic goals and objectives to address each concern, based on an overall vision for the lake.

Next, consider several management options to address each objective. Select from the best of these options and put them in the form of a written plan that includes a realistic time table for funding options, implementation and follow-up to measure progress. By prioritizing actions necessary to address a particular objective, you'll be better able to focus your implementation efforts.

While priorities are important, a lake-use plan should be a working document. That means it can and should be subject to change. This flexibility can be quite effective when implementing the plan. For instance, action on some lake-use issues may have to wait for available funding while another particular problem could be resolved quickly to provide greater user support and cooperation on other issues. In other words, prioritize actions but remain flexible enough to change their sequence as necessary.

The follow-up you'll be doing to gather feedback on the effectiveness of the plan is another good reason for flexibility. A formal survey mailed to lake users, as well as informal comments about the effectiveness of the plan in resolving conflicts, is another key to its success. Each is important for evaluating the plan and altering it to meet objectives.

Options and Challenges
Lake-use plans can take many forms. Some include the use of lake zones to designate areas of the lake for certain uses such as fishing, swimming, wildlife refuges, etc.. In regions with several lakes in close proximity, an entire lake could be designated for a single use. Time restrictions also may be considered. Perhaps a combination of lake-use zones and time restrictions will prove most effective for reducing conflicts.

One of the most difficult aspects of resolving lake-use conflicts is altering the behavior of lake users. When this is the fundamental cause of the conflict, education is very important. Many people feel it is their right to use a lake however they see fit, no matter how their use may interfere with others. Short of banning a particular type of recreation, educating individuals connected to that form of recreation can make a difference.

Even though the involvement of all interested parties in a planning effort can lead to considerable conflict and debate, the final product -the lake use plan- will have a greater chance of meeting the needs of all stakeholders. Because lake-use planning is a consensus-building process, peer pressure will help minimize some dissension. If the group cannot come to agreement on all issues, regulatory measures that focus on improving the lake resource may be appropriate.

While lake-use planning is not a panacea, it is a process for recognizing the value of lakes for a variety of uses. Successful planning will help all lake users realize the complexities of lake management and the trade-off that must be made in order to maximize benefits for all lake uses. The process also provides a chance for lake users to manage natural resources and celebrate their large and small successes along the way.

For additional information, contact the North American Lake Management Society at P.O. Box 5443, Madison, WI 53705-5443. Phone 608.233.2836 (3186 FAX) or e-mail

For information about the CTIC guidebook, contact the Conservation Technology Information Center, 1220 Potter Dr., Room 170, West Lafayette, IN 47906-1383. Phone 765.494.9555 (5969 FAX) or e-mail