Lake Preservation Act

Lakes Preservation Act Description
Public Freshwater Lakes Rule Summary
Regulated Activities
Project Evaluation Criteria
Exempted Activities

A. Lakes Preservation Act Description:

The Lakes Preservation Act states that the natural resources and natural scenic beauty of Indiana's public freshwater lakes are a public right. It further states that the general public "has a vested right in the ... preservation, protection, and enjoyment of all public freshwater lakes ... in their present state" and in the "... use of the public freshwater lakes for recreational purposes". To ensure that these rights are preserved, the Act provides the State with "... full power and control of all of the public freshwater lakes" and mandates that the State hold and control "... all public freshwater lakes in trust for the use of all citizens of Indiana".

The Legislature created a permitting program within the Lakes Preservation Act to provide the State with the authority to fulfill its statutory obligation. Section 6 of the Act details this program by stating that "a person may not change the level of the water or the shoreline of a public freshwater lake by ...excavating; filling in; or otherwise causing a change in the area or depth of; or affecting the natural resources, scenic beauty, or contour of; the lake below the waterline or shoreline without a written permit issued by the Department". Simply stated, any activity that occurs at or lakeward of a public freshwater lake's legal or average normal shoreline requires the written authorization of the Department prior to project initiation.

B. Public Freshwater Lakes Rule Summary:

The Public Freshwater Lakes Rule, 312 IAC 11, provides design and performance standards for projects that are subject to regulation under the Lakes Preservation Act. They contain definitions of key terms, criteria for both temporary and permanent structures, as well as information regarding innovative practices and nonconforming uses.

C. Regulated Activities:

Activities regulated by the Department under the Lakes Preservation Act include any project that will result in an alteration of a lake's bed or shoreline. Typically this includes, but is not limited to; dredging, new seawalls, seawall refacing, underwater beaches, boat wells, boat houses, and fish attractors. The installation and removal of a temporary pier is authorized without a permit provided the provisions of 312 IAC 11-3-1 are satisfied. However, if a pier dispute arises which requires the intervention of the Department then all parties to the dispute will be required to obtain a permit in order to install their

Lake fills and permanent piers are viewed by the Department as a taking of the lakebed and are, therefore, contrary to the fundamental tenets of the Lake Preservation Act. The Act states that the public has a vested right in the preservation, protection, and enjoyment of all public freshwater lakes in
their present state, and requires the State to hold and control the lakes in trust for the use of all citizens.

It is the Department's position that projects of this nature cannot be approved unless the applicant can clearly demonstrate that a substantial public benefit will result due to the project's construction.

D. Project Evaluation Criteria:

In evaluating a proposed project, Department staff assess both its singular and cumulative impact on the lake and its resources using the criteria outlined in the Act; natural resources, natural scenic beauty, and
recreational purpose. These terms are defined as follows:

  • "natural resources" means the water, fish, plant life, and minerals in a public freshwater lake.
  • "natural scenic beauty" means the natural condition as left by nature without manmade additions or alterations.
  • "recreational purpose" means fishing, boating, swimming, and the storage of water to maintain water levels

The criteria evaluated during a project's assessment include:

1. whether or not the project will result in a taking of the lake;
2. whether or not the project will result in significant environmental harm to the lake; and
3. whether or not the project will adversely impact navigation.

As an aide in evaluating the acceptability of a project, the Department developed a series of maps which illustrate zones of special concern within and along the public freshwater lakes. These maps were published as a nonrule policy document in the Indiana Register, Volume 19, Number 4, (19 IR 940) on January 1, 1996 under the title "Natural Resources Commission, Information Bulletin #10, Wetlands Within Public Freshwater Lakes". The maps are not inclusive of all public freshwater lakes in the State. For lakes that have not been mapped, the Department will evaluate a project's impact on a case-by-case basis.

E. Exempted Activities:

The Lakes Preservation Act stipulates that the following lakes are exempt from regulation under its provisions:
1. Lake Michigan;
2. Wolf Lake and Lake George in Hammond;
3. a lake used for, or created by, surface coal mining; or
4. an off-stream, privately owned pond, lake, reservoir, or other body of water constructed for the reduction or control of pollutants or cooling before discharge into public waters.

Additionally, it exempts the following project types:
1. shoreline alteration projects on Lake Shafer or Lake Freeman, and
2. dredging projects and shoreline restoration and/or stabilization projects within the 100 year pool of a public water supply reservoir.

An exemption granted under the Lakes Preservation Act does not circumvent any other State, federal, or local permitting requirement. The responsibility to obtain all other permits rests solely with the applicant.