A state Supreme Court ruling could impact the Department of Natural Resources’ ability to set water levels on some Wisconsin lakes.

In a 4-3 decision, the court on Tuesday ruled the DNR exceeded its authority under the public trust doctrine when it rejected a request from Rock-Koshkonong Lake District to raise water levels because it could impact wetland areas. The court found the DNR excluded testimony on the economic impact lower water levels had on Lake Koshkonong residents, businesses, and the local tax base in reaching its decision.

The case came out of a 2005 request from the District to increase water levels on the dam-controlled Lake Koshkonong by 7.2 inches. Officials argued the move could improve tourism in the area during the summer months, which the Supreme Court says should have been considered when reviewing the request.

Lake District Chairman Brian Christianson called Tuesday’s decision an “epic landmark case” because it’s the first of its kind to make clear that economic impacts need to be considered when setting water levels on lakes that are impounded by dams.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court, with an order that the information be considered with the request. DNR spokesman Bill Cosh says the agency will continue to review and study the court’s decision, and “will work with our DOJ counsel to consider the next steps on remand to the Circuit Court.”

WCLO’s Stan Stricker contributed to this report.

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