Lake Management Jurisdiction


City of Shell Lake

Zoning Code

Minimum frontage / lot size

The minimum lot frontage for new construction is 150 feet.  This provision went into effect in an update to the shoreland zoning ordinance in the late 1980s.  All lots and parcels platted prior to the effective date of this ordinance were “grandfathered” to their existing plat size. 

The areas around Shell Lake and Little Ripley were nearly completely platted prior to the adoption of the 150 foot requirement.  Therefore, few existing parcels were affected by this ordinance.  Unplanned lakeshore around Round Lake and Chain Lake must adhere to the current ordinance requiring 150 feet of frontage for each parcel.

Erosion control and stormwater management plans

Erosion control and stormwater management plans are required any time more than 1,000 square feet of land will be filled or graded.  The plans must document and outline erosion control and stormwater management practices to be used in construction.

Removal of shore cover

The ordinance requires maintenance of a shoreline buffer zone from the administrative high-water mark back 35 feet, except that up to 30% of the shore cover may be cut or removed.  The cutting is not to produce any open space greater than thirty feet wide.  Most lots on Shell Lake have been cleared much more extensively than the ordinance allows.  There is no provision to require restoration of shoreline buffer zones in the ordinance.


The required setback for constructing a building on lakeshore property within the City of Shell Lake requires that the construction nearest to the shoreline (including a deck or porch) be a minimum of 100’ from a setback elevation of 1,219.7’ above mean sea level (msl).  1999 water levels on Shell Lake fluctuated between 1220.68 feet msl and 1221.78 feet msl.  Many homes were built prior to the zoning changes and are considerably closer to the lake than currently allowed.

Floodplain ordinance

The City of Shell Lake did not complete the requirements to enter the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  The city council wrote and adopted a floodplain ordinance but did not adopt the floodplain resolution, a requirement for the NFIP.  Because the City of Shell Lake has not adopted the floodplain resolution, no insurance coverage under the NFIP is available to property owners.  The city council is currently considering whether or not to join this program.

Setback requirements in the zoning ordinance must be coordinated with the regional flood elevation level of 1,226.0 feet msl.  If the existing ground elevation at a building site is at or below 1,226.0 feet msl, then the top of the floor must be at an effective elevation of 1,228.0 feet msl.

Land Use Planning

The City of Shell Lake, Wisconsin adopted a comprehensive plan in 1985.  This plan addresses land use. 

Land Use Plan:

A compilation of objectives, policies, goals, maps, and programs to guide the future development and redevelopment of public and private property.  Each land use is described by the amount, type, intensity, and net density of land use.    Land use categories may include agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial and other public and private uses.  Maps are used to illustrate current and future land uses with information about productive agricultural soils, natural limitations for building site development, floodplains, wetlands and other environmentally sensitive lands, and the boundaries of areas to which public utilities and community facility services are provided.

As described earlier, the property around Shell Lake is nearly fully developed. Future development in the city will be on backlots which generally still drain to the lake.  The city should create an updated land use plan.  This need is further supported by community reaction to recent proposals for boat rental, moorings, resort facilities, and fuel docks on the lake. 

Critical wetlands in the watershed should be preserved.  These areas provide much needed overflow capacity for the lake in times of heavy precipitation and serve to filter runoff water.  Aerial photography and topographic mapping would provide useful information for both land use planning and lake level management.

Washburn County

Septic systems

The Washburn County Zoning Administration reviews all new construction for septic system compliance and inspects the construction of each system.   The City of Shell Lake funded a study of the septic systems around Shell Lake in 1989.  This study tested 219 systems for compliance. Washburn County worked with the owners of the 110 failing systems that were identified to bring them into compliance.

Shoreland zoning

Washburn County enforces a shoreland zoning ordinance in the unincorporated areas of the county.  This ordinance does not apply within the city limits of Shell Lake.  Washburn County revised its Shoreland Zoning Ordinance to incorporate a lakes classification system and requirements for restoration of shoreline buffers in October 1998.  The lakes classification system establishes varying setbacks, lot widths, lot areas, and vegetative buffer requirements for three classes of lakes.  Chain, Little Ripley, and Round Lakes are classified as Class 3 lakes along their unincorporated shorelines.

Lake Class

Lot Width

Min. Lot Area


Vegetative Buffer

Class 1

150 feet

30,000 sq. ft.

75 feet

50 feet

Class 2

200 feet

80,000 sq. ft.

100 feet

75 feet

Class 3

300 feet

3 acres

100 feet

75 feet

Restoration of the shoreline buffer is required under certain land use permit conditions in the shoreland.

The City of Shell Lake should evaluate adopting the new provisions in Washburn County’s ordinance.  There is also a potential for contracting with the County for enforcement of the City of Shell Lake shoreland zoning provisions.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

All water in Wisconsin is under the jurisdiction of the State of Wisconsin.  This includes drinking water, recreational waters, and wastewater. 


Wastewater is treated as sewage or black water and must meet disposal standards.

Since household wastewater may contain many undesirable substances such as disease causing bacteria, infectious viruses, household chemicals, and excess nutrients; proper treatment using a septic sewage system, city sewer, or wastewater holding tank is necessary to protect public health and prevent groundwater pollution.  Any discharge of untreated wastewater is a violation of Wisconsin law. 

Boating and water safety

State of Wisconsin boating laws enforced by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources law enforcement staff govern powerboat operator safety.   State law establishes a slow, no-wake zone within 100 feet of a dock, raft, or pier for motorboats.  State law also prohibits the operation of motorboats in excess of slow-no-wake speed on lakes less than 50 acres having public access (with some exceptions).  A slow-no wake zone is established for personal watercraft 200 feet from shorelines, other motor craft, and docks, rafts, and piers.

None of the four lakes within the City of Shell Lake are governed by local boating ordinances.  The Shell Lake City Council could establish local boating ordinances and/or a city operated boat patrol to enforce state laws and any local ordinance relating to boating.