The Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council, Inc is a not-for-profit public service organization formed in 2002 to promote boating and water safety along with improved water quality on the Iowa Great Lakes. The WSC has IRS 501 (C) (3) status, so that contributions can be tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
The Water Safety Council enjoys great partnering and support from the Iowa Great Lakes community. The WSC is an active partner with many of the IGL lake protective and environmental organizations:
- Along with local water rescue squads and marinas: Mau Marine, Parks, Marina, Oak Hill Marina, and Great Lakes Marine.
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2003:
§ Improved the radio communications equipment for the Lake Patrol. This equipment included six multi-channel portable radios, a repeater station to increase portable communications range, and a multi-channel base station at the Gull Point Lake Patrol Station. The multi-channel radios enhance communications with fire-rescue squads, ambulances, local police, sheriff’s officers, and state troupers in the lakes area and the Emergency Communications 911 Center in Spirit Lake.
§ Provided two portable radios with noise canceling headsets for the Ice Rescue Air Boat operated by the Arnolds Park – Okoboji Rescue Squad.
§ Purchased a desktop computer and wireless Internet access at the Gull Point Lake Patrol Station.
§ Purchased a professional noise meter, in partnership with three of the area’s lake protective associations, to measure motorboat noise levels for the enforcement of the Model Noise Act.
§ Purchased boating education manuals with boating information and the test necessary to achieve personal watercraft certification for person’s age 12 to 17 years of age.
§ Purchased PFD’s and float coats for the Lake Patrol and the Spirit Lake PWC Rescue Swimmer Team.
§ Purchased a boat hoist for the Lake Patrol.
§ Contributed $1,000 towards the purchase of the new Lakes Area Fire & Rescue Boat
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2004:
§ Purchased and installed a WeatherNET weather station at the Gull Point Lake Patrol Station to generate real time weather information on the WSC website. This installation also includes an Internet camera with pan, tilt, and zoom lens to provide a variety of West Okoboji views.
§ Purchased a Lake Patrol boat to be used by the DNR on the Okoboji interconnected lakes. The boat is equipped with a special two-way radio that includes channels for police, fire, rescue, ambulance, state radio and marine safety channels.
§ Purchased a laptop computer and projector to be used in presenting water safety courses.
§ Designed and printed 8,000 four-color water safety brochures with Iowa Great Lakes information. They are distributed through local marinas, resorts, boat ramps, Spirit Lake Mainsail, and the Maritime Museum. Funding support received from the National Water Safety Congress.
§ Launched a “Life Jackets for Kids” program in conjunction with three local marinas with the sponsorship of the BoatUS Foundation.
§ Replaced the boater information signs at the bridges between East and West Lake Okoboji with a contribution from the University of Okoboji Tennis Classic.
§ Placed Carbon Monoxide warning signs at boat ramps, through a grant from the BoatUS Foundation, warning boaters of the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.
§ Placed "Boat Noise Law Enforced" signs at the walking bridge between East and West Okoboji, boat ramps, and marinas.
§ Purchased eight types of specialized Personal Flotation Devices for demonstration at water safety training classes. Funding support received from the National Water Safety Congress.
§ Sponsored boater safety-training courses in partnership with the DNR and the Iowa Lakes Community College – at four locations. Person’s age 12-17 that pass the test will receive their Iowa certification to operate a PWC on Iowa waters. (The Iowa certificate is valid in most states with similar PWC or boater certification requirements.)
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2005:
· The Water Safety Council was presented the 2004 National Water Safety Congress Midwest regional award. The NWSC Midwest region covers eleven Midwestern states. The award recognizes the WSC for its contributions as to water safety issues and programs. It is the highest regional award presented by the National Water Safety Congress.
· Two highway billboards were installed to encourage kids to wear life jackets.
Billboard space and artwork for 2005 and 2006 were funded in part by a grant from the National Water Safety Congress and the National Safe Boating Council in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety /Aquatic Resource Trust Fund.
· A second WSC supplied Lake Patrol boat was purchased and equipped for the Okoboji interconnected lakes. The new boat is a Baja Intruder law enforcement model that was equipped by the Water Safety Council with special equipment: 1) a multi-channel two-way radio for contact with rescue, ambulance, fire, and city, county, and state law enforcement and 2) a Global Positioning System (GPS) for determining accurate positions on the water and 3) a Sonar unit for locating objects under water. The boat is 25-feet in length to handle the wind waves and boat chop found on East and West Okoboji. This boat joins three DNR provided patrol boats and the first Water Safety Council provided boat at the Gull Point Lake Patrol Station.
· During the 2005 Iowa legislative session the Water Safety Council along with great community support was successful in providing increased DNR funding for water safety and fighting invasive species. A modest increase in boat registration fees is providing the increased support.
· An Information Kiosk was installed between the State Pier and the Preservation Plaza (Green Space) in the Arnolds Park Amusement Park to consolidate water safety and water quality messages.
· Made float coats available to Dickinson County law enforcement officers. In many cases police or deputy sheriff officers are the first to arrive at the scene of water emergencies since they are the closest to the scene. Float coats are a padded jacket that also acts as a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).
· Purchased an identical GPS and Sonar unit for the Lakes Area Fire & Rescue Boat to the one used on the new 25-foot Baja Intruder Lake Patrol boat. The use of identical units will reduce training time and will facilitate comparing readings between the two boats.
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2006:
· Proposed six new Iowa water safety legislation initiatives. A tougher penalty for leaving the scene of a boat accident was by passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor. Became effective July 1, 2006.
· Organized an Aquatic Invasive Species program to prevent AIS from entering the Iowa Great Lakes. Three additional DNR Water Patrol Officers were hired to educate boaters on how to prevent the transportation of Invasive Species. The new officers were stationed at the busiest boat ramps during the busiest hours of usage.
· Participated and assisted in a public discussion of a nighttime boat speed limit proposed by the East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Lakes Improvement Corporation. A 25 MPH nighttime speed limit was approved by the DNR on March 9, 2006.
· Provided part of the funds to equip the Arnolds Park - Okoboji Water Rescue and Dive Team with additional float coats.
· Organized and launched a Spirit of America hands-on Youth Water Safety Education Program for seventh graders in the Iowa Great Lakes region. Camp Foster YMCA is the SOA program facilitator. Okoboji and Spirit Lake schools participated this year. Other schools will be added in 2007.
· Provided Personal Flotation Devices to Iowa Lakeside Laboratory for youth educational programs. PFD's donated by BoatUS Foundation.
· Performed a test of a flashing hazard navigation buoy prior to recommending the installation of lighted buoys for all hazard navigation buoys on the Iowa Great Lakes.
· Installed new Information Kiosks at Emerson Bay and Hattie Elston boat ramps to consolidate water safety and water quality information.
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2007:
§ One of the 2007 water safety legislation initiatives was adopted by the Iowa legislature and signed by the Governor. The crime of eluding a Lake Patrol officer is now a more serious crime - depending on the circumstances, it can be a felony.
§ Equipped each ambulance and law enforcement vehicle in the lakes area with water safety throw lines and Personal Flotation Device. Funding was provided by the Dickinson County Endowment Fund.
§ Designed, produced, and distributed a new water safety brochure using improved graphics to educate boaters and lake users about helpful water safety and water quality information. Funding provided by the BoatUS Foundation.
§ Recommended the DNR install lighted hazard navigation buoys on the Iowa Great Lakes. The lighted buoys were installed for the 2007 summer.
§ Conducted a fund raising campaign to fund water safety and water quality projects.
§ Built ten additional Information Kiosks at the busiest boat ramps in the Iowa Great Lakes area to provide water safety and water quality information.
§ Supported the second year Spirit of America hands-on Youth Water Safety Education Program for twelve-year old students. Camp Foster YMCA was the SOA program facilitator. Okoboji, Spirit Lake, and Harris-Lake Park schools participated. Read Spirit of America article in 2007 Vacation Okoboji magazine.
§ Continued the 2006 Aquatic Invasive Species program utilizing DNR Water Safety Officers at boat ramps to educate boaters and conduct inspections of boaters entering the Iowa Great Lakes.
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2008:
▪ Installed six additional poster window boxes at busy boat ramps to display water safety and water quality information.
▪ Installed twelve "see-through" literature boxes at the busiest boat ramps to provide water safety and Invasive Species brochures. The new literature boxes provide a tighter seal to protect the brochures from rain damage.
▪ Provided the DNR two additional specialized two-way portable radios for DNR Dock Enforcement Officers to provide water safety during emergencies.
▪ Continued the Spirit of America (SOA) hands-on Youth Water Safety Education Program for twelve-year old students. Camp Foster YMCA will continue as the SOA program facilitator. in addition to the 2006 - 2007 Okoboji, Spirit Lake, and Harris-Lake Park schools; the Spencer and Estherville schools were added this year.
▪ Continued the DNR Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program utilizing DNR Water Patrol Officers at boat ramps to prevent Aquatic Invasive Species from entering the Iowa Great Lakes.
▪ Organized and launched a volunteer AIS program to supplement the DNR Water Patrol Officers to educate boaters at the 12 major boat ramps.
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2009:
▪ Assisted with the design and distribution of Iowa Great Lakes boater maps with water safety and Aquatic Invasive Species information for East and West Okoboji and Spirit Lake.
▪ The Iowa Legislature adopted a law to requiring boaters under 13 years to age to wear a Personal Flotation Device while a boat is underway.
▪ Continued the Spirit of America (SOA) hands-on Youth Water Safety Education Program for twelve-year old students. Camp Foster YMCA will continue as the SOA program facilitator. This year SOA was a resident camp at YMCA Camp Foster.
▪ Continued the DNR Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program utilizing DNR Water Patrol Officers at boat ramps to prevent Aquatic Invasive Species from entering the Iowa Great Lakes.
▪ Continued a volunteer AIS program to educate boaters at the 12 major boat ramps.
Water Safety Accomplishments for 2010:
▪ Worked with the DNR Aquatic Invasive Species program to hire two Fisheries Bureau summer interns to educate boaters to prevent AIS from entering the Iowa Great Lakes.
▪ Continued a volunteer AIS program to educate boaters at the 12 major boat ramps.
Water Safety Plans for 2011:
▪ Encourage the Iowa legislature to reduce the blood alcohol level to 0.08 for boat operators – the same alcohol limit as for cars.
▪ Continue the Spirit of America hands-on Youth Water Safety Education Program for twelve-year old students utilizing two resident camps at Camp Foster.
▪ Continue the DNR Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program utilizing three DNR Water Patrol Officers and three DNR Fisheries Bureau summer interns at boat ramps to prevent AIS from entering the Iowa Great Lakes.
▪ Continue the AIS boat ramp volunteer program educating and inspecting boaters coming to the Iowa Great Lakes.
▪ Assist the DNR and Iowa Lakeside Laboratories to hire six Student Conservation Association interns to educate boaters about the threat of Aquatic Invasive Species to the Iowa Great Lakes.
▪ Redesign a new Water Safety Brochure for the Iowa Great Lakes. Distribute the new brochure to marinas, boat ramps, resorts, boat rental locations, bait shops, and chamber of commerce.
Continuing Activities of the Water Safety Council:
(In April 2016 the video camera was upgraded to High Definition video quality.)
The article below appears in the 2006 edition of Vacation Okoboji magazine.
by Greg Drees
WITH CHALLENGES ARISING from ever-growing pressure on the natural resources, the relentless annual summer demands on the lakes made Owen take pause and question what he could do about his depleted fleet of patrol boats, noise pollution and the danger of invasive species and other threats to water quality. Owen had represented the DNR at a National Water Safety Congress meeting in Dallas in 1989. “I came away from that conference with the feeling that a lot was being done for water safety in the big coastal waters, but little was being accomplished in the Midwest,” Owen said. Thus, he co-founded the Midwest Regional Water Safety Council to train law enforcement, marine patrol, fire protection and rescue professionals in water safety. Subsequently, he saw the need for a local organization that could achieve many of the same goals.
In 2002, with start-up money from philanthropist Chuck Long, Owen formed
the Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council (WSC), a non-profit community
service group dedicated to promoting boating and water safety along with
improved water quality. He recruited longtime DNR colleague Bill Maas to
join the board, as well as Arnolds Park/Okoboji fire chief Steve Dulin and
Tim Kinnetz, who once directed the Emergency Management Service for the
county. Completing the five-member board was Phil Petersen, a communications
expert and clean water advocate.
Communication in general became an important mantra of the WSC in its formative stages and has become the foundation of its success. The group designed a website and installed a WeatherNET weather station at the Gull Point Lake Patrol Station for real time weather monitoring. They designed and distributed water safety brochures, replaced dated and illegible boater information signage and added more at strategic boat ramps and passageways and built an informational kiosk near the state pier on West Lake Okoboji that provides current water quality and safety messages.
With upwards of 1,000 boats trading back and forth in the channel connecting East and West Lake Okoboji on a typical summer day, and with diverse crafts ranging from kayaks and canoes to sailboats and powerboats of every size and description, water safety is of keen concern for the WSC and the DNR Lake Patrol. In that regard, huge steps have been taken to ensure the safety of everyone sharing the Iowa Great Lakes waters.
Foremost in that effort was the rebuilding of the Lake Patrol fleet of boats. In Owen’s 25 years of law enforcement navigation, the size of his staff and fleet has remained unchanged despite astronomical increases in boat sizes and numbers. Because of breakdowns and the lack of a DNR replacement schedule, what once was a fleet of four boats dwindled to one in the summer of 2004. Taking the lead, the WSC – through grant monies and charitable contributions – ultimately purchased two patrol boats. The last, a 25-foot Baja Intruder, is rigged from bow to stern with high-tech equipment. “It’s the perfect boat to handle the conditions we face on these lakes,” Owen said.
The new boats carry prominent law enforcement signage on their hulls, creating a beefed up presence on the water. “People tell us they see our boats often now, making them feel safer,” Owen said. Owen also created a rotational scheduling agreement with other patrol stations in the district, bringing more personnel to Okoboji during peak usage periods. “Last Fourth of July, we had five boats on the water,” Owen said.
Also integral in the WSC’s safeguarding efforts have been the promotion of life jacket use, float coat and PDF (personal flotation device) purchases for law enforcement officers and sponsorship of boater safety training courses.
The WSC is strengthening its mission to improve water safety and water quality through cooperation. “We want to enhance our relationships with the DNR and the wealth of local organizations to unite for common goals,” Petersen said. “We’ve come a long way in a short period of time,” Owen added. “Teamwork is the key, and we will build upon that.
Capsized Sailboat Training
Shallow Pockets... Deep Trouble
Funding problems left Iowa Great Lakes with fewer Lake Patrol boats than usual this year (2004)
October 2004 Text by Bob Eschliman Photography by Dan Ross
Phil Petersen and the members of the Water Safety Council are concerned and disappointed with the current state of affairs with the funding for the Lake Patrol at the Iowa Great Lakes. What once was a fleet of four full-time boats patrolling the waters of Big Spirit Lake and the Okoboji chain has dwindled to two.
One is an original Iowa Department of Natural Resources patrol boat. The other is a supplemental boat that has been provided to the Lake Patrol by the WSC. It’s a scary proposition for everyone, given the following facts:
• In Dickinson County alone, roughly 7,500 boats are registered; this does not include out-of-state and out-of-county residents and tourists who come to the Lakes during the summer months.
• An average of 900 boats pass through the channel between East Lake and West Lake Okoboji every day in the summertime.
• There are about 5,000 lakeside homes in the Iowa Great Lakes area, almost all of which have docks with one or more watercraft.
• Because of the large surface area of the Iowa Great Lakes and the winds that are generated in the prairie region of the Upper Midwest, larger waves are created here than on most other bodies of water in the state.
That makes a fully funded and properly staffed Lake Patrol important to the area.
“We’ve been pursuing this issue for a year and to be honest, we’ve been disappointed with the results so far,” Petersen said. “We’re trying to work with the DNR on this, but we want to take a friendly approach. We don’t want to antagonize them.”
The lines of communication between the Lakes area and Des Moines have been working overtime with letters, telephone calls and e-mails running back and forth between the WSC and the DNR.
“We know that it’s financially painful for the DNR to buy four new boats, but why haven’t they been planning to replace them as they get older. Is this a statewide problem?” Petersen said. “Last year, boaters in the Iowa Great Lakes paid more than a quarter of a million dollars in boat registration fees and fuel taxes. Where’s the money going?”
Lowell Joslin, the Law Enforcement Bureau chief for the DNR says, in a nutshell, the problem is one being faced by many departments of the state government: too many needs, too few dollars to spread around.
“Our funding comes from license revenues and some federal money, as well, which are placed into the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund,” he said. “That fund is used for three of our bureaus: Law Enforcement, Fisheries and Wildlife.”
Other monies that help to fund the Law Enforcement Bureau are boat registration fees, snowmobile fees, hunting licenses and stamps, donations from the public, civil penalties for hunting violations and from the sale of miscellaneous equipment and prairie seeds during the spring sale.
Fuel tax money, which is earmarked for the acquisition, maintenance and development of boat access and the purchase of new navigational markers, is not used to fund Law Enforcement Bureau activities. The statewide Law Enforcement Bureau budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2005, is $9.8 million.
“Our funds are allocated through the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund by the Legislature according to line items in the budget. Personal services, which includes the salaries and benefits for our employees, takes the biggest chunk of that,” Joslin said. “When you have a budget of $9.8 million and $6.9 million goes out for the payroll, it’s easy to see that is our biggest allocation. We also have to pay for vehicle operation, travel, postage, communications and equipment.”
Another chunk of the Law Enforcement Bureau’s budget is expended to pay for support services provided by the DNR office in Des Moines. In the end, there is only so much money that can go toward the care and maintenance of the dozens of patrol boats that cover the waters of Iowa.
What funds are available are distributed based upon the priority of the need. Those decisions are made during a meeting that includes Joslin, his assistant chief and the six area supervisors for the state. The chief said he has been a big proponent of increased registration fees that would help to better fund the Law Enforcement Bureau.
“The last time we had an increase was in 1984. We’ve gotten a lot of help on this issue from the folks in your area, particularly the Water Safety Council and Sen. David Johnson,” Joslin said. “It didn’t pass two years ago and it didn’t pass last year. We’ve increased our push for it, though. The money would provide us with more equipment and would help with water quality and invasive plant species issues.”
Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) is the chairman of the Iowa Senate’s committee that deals with natural resources. He has twice sponsored a bill that would provide a modest increase in boat registration fees with the roughly $865,000 generated annually going directly toward law enforcement, water quality and invasive species issues.
“There’s been a reluctance to move in that direction in the Legislature,” Johnson said. “We had the votes both times in the Senate, but there’s some concern in the House. We’re trying to address the issue, but it takes patience.”
In the meantime, the DNR is forced to make do with what it can get, in terms of funding.
Rich Jordet, the area supervisor for Northwest Iowa, said he has not been working in the Orleans office long enough to say for sure how the current fiscal situation has affected Lake Patrol operations. He does plan to go to bat for the Iowa Great Lakes at the next budget meeting, though.
“I’m tied to what we get from above. Every district has its priorities, but our number one priority is to get a replacement motor for the patrol boat on Spirit Lake,” he said. “Every district in Iowa has patrol boats. We just have more than everyone else.”
Jordet said a new patrol boat is on its way to replace one of the aged watercraft. In addition to the new motor for the third boat, Joslin said he is hopeful that another new boat can be purchased for the Lakes area within the next year or two.
In the meantime, the Law Enforcement Bureau has been cinching its belt.
“We have had to become more efficient with the money that is budgeted to us,” Joslin said.
Reprinted from October 2004 edition of OKOBOJI magazine
WSC Formation History
In the fall of 2001, a group of concerned citizens formed the Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council (WSC), a not-for-profit organization to promote boating and water safety in the area. In addressing these issues, the WSC partners with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), national and statewide boating organizations and a plethora of lakes area conservation groups. The WSC is led by Gary Owen, a law enforcement officer with the DNR who – since 1981 – has directed the Water Patrol from headquarters at Gull Point State Park on West Okoboji.
Owen represented the DNR at a National Water Safety Congress meeting in Dallas in 1989. “I came away from that conference with the feeling that a lot was being done for water safety in the big coastal water areas,” Owen said, “but little was being done in the Midwest.” Along with Steve Fairbanks, who is operations manager at Saylorville Lake for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Owens co-founded the Midwest Regional Water Safety Council to train law enforcement, marine patrol, fire protection and rescue professionals in water safety.
To best facilitate his objectives, and to raise local monies for projects not available through the DNR, Owen approached several others in the lakes region about forming a local organization. Bill Maas, a retired educator and a staff member of the Lake Patrol since 1974, joined the effort. So did Steve Dulin, fire chief for Arnolds Park and Okoboji. Completing the five-person board were Okoboji citizen and water safety advocate Phil Petersen and Tim Kinnetz, with emergency management experience. “Our primary focus is to promote boating and water safety in the Iowa Great Lakes,” Owen said.
Partnerships are important in educating the public about safety issues, according to Owen. The WSC is a member of the Okoboji Yacht Club, the Iowa Lakes Association, all of the Iowa Great Lakes protective associations. “If you don’t have the support of the public, the enforcement program isn’t going to work,” Owen said.
Petersen emphasized the WSC’s commitment to enhancing the Lake Patrol presence on the Iowa Great Lakes. “If you don’t have some law enforcement visibility, then you can talk to people and it doesn’t register,” Petersen said. “But when they see a Lake Patrol boat around, people pay more attention to what they’re doing.”
In November 2004
Julie Fillenwarth and Brett Thacker were added to the WSC board of
directors. Julie Fillenwarth comes with a lakes area resort background and
Brett Thacker has a marina operator background in Sioux City and West
Thanks to Greg Drees and the Sioux City Journal for supplying this WSC history.
Contact Water Safety Council
The Water Safety Council is open to suggestions for ways to improve water safety and improve water quality. The WSC can be contacted at email firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at PO Box 232, Spirit Lake, IA 51360.