Shoreland Management History and Purpose

Photo of duck nesting on shoreland

The history of Minnesota's Shoreland Management Program dates back to 1969 with the passage of the Shoreland Management Act. Minimum development standards - such as structure setbacks, height limits, impervious surface limits, lot requirements, vegetation removal and land alteration requirements - are established in state rules (Minnesota Rules, part 6120.2500 - 6120.3900) and administered through local ordinances.

Shoreland district boundaries around rivers and lakes

Shorelands typically contain important habitat and erodible soils, which present a high risk to surface water pollution if not anchored with natural deep-rooted vegetation. Many of these areas are highly sensitive to development. Shoreland standards are designed to accommodate development around sensitive water bodies in a sustainable way - reducing impacts on water quality and preserving the natural character of the water body.

The Shoreland Management Program is the most comprehensive of the state's shoreland and river-related programs that guide land use.

Other programs include:

Shoreland development, then and now

Good development standards are important now more than ever to address current trends.

Development Size and Scale

single story house near the water. there is a dock in the water

Small seasonal cabins under 1,000 square feet were common in the 1960s and 1970s.

a two-story house near the water. a dock with three boat slips is out front

Large homes (3,000 square feet or larger) became increasingly common starting in the late 1990s.

Vegetation and Landscaping

log cabin home near water, a dock and two chairs are in front of the cabin

Most shoreland lots in the 1960s and 1970s featured natural vegetation and little hardcover.

a large cabin near the water, rocks replace grass

Over time, more shoreland lots feature highly altered suburban-style landscaping. Natural vegetation is replaced with turf and hard cover.


ariel view of a lot of land near water

Many homes and cabins were built on small lots close to the water in the 1960s. Most were small in scale and proportional to the small lot size.

ariel view of a land of land near water with a house

Over time, the homes and cabins on these small lots have been replaced with much larger homes. This results in much higher levels of hard surface and stormwater runoff.

State and Local Governments

Partners in Shoreland Management

Under the Shoreland Management Act, the DNR establishes shoreland regulations. Counties and cities implement those regulations through local zoning. The day-to-day work of cities and counties guide shoreland property owners to make the best possible development decisions. It's a difficult job but their efforts protect shoreline resources for the benefit of all Minnesotans. Many counties are going over and beyond the minimum shoreland regulations, and have adopted higher standards in their zoning ordinances.

Timeline of Shoreland Management Standards

Years leading up to the Minnesota legislature passing the Shoreland Management Act

1950s and 1960s – Significant growth of lakeshore homes

Significant growth of lakeshore homes during this period leads to growing concern about the detrimental impacts to Minnesota’s lakes and rivers and to local economies.

“In 1960, there were about 73,000 seasonal lakeshore homes throughout Minnesota, a 70 percent increase over 1950. By 1975, the number of seasonal homes is projected to increase to 181,000, a 150 percent increase.” (Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1/2/70)

1962 – The Minnesota Natural Resources Council advocates for land use protections to improve water quality

The Minnesota Natural Resources Council publishes Natural Resources of Minnesota, 1962: How Recreation, Game and Fish, Land, Water, Forests and Minerals Can Better Serve the People of Our State. The report strongly advocated for land use protections to improve water quality.

1967 – Legislature funds the completion of the Statewide Minnesota Lakeshore Development Study.

The Statewide Minnesota Lakeshore Development Study, completed in 1969 by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs under John Borchert and staff, found that:

  • Water quality was deteriorating due to inadequate sewage treatment, runoff from fertilizers and feedlots, and recreational uses.
  • Lakes were becoming more crowded.
  • The number of lakeshore homes increased by approximately 88% between 1954 and 1967.
January 1969 – Governor LeVander proposes shoreland protections

Governor LeVander proposes shoreland protections to be passed as part of his “Minnesota’s Crystal Waters Program.” Formally introduced in the State of the State address on January 8, 1969.

George Orning is displaying a map of the Brainer lakes area that was the focus of his graduate work on shoreland development in 1966. Photo is from the Brainerd Dispatch. 1966 photo of Graduate student George Orning

The passing of the Shoreland Management Act – present

May 1969 – Legislature passes the Shoreland Management Act

Shoreland Management Act (Minn. Stat. 103F.201-.227)

  • Bipartisan effort – all shared concerned about rapid development, crowding, and declining water quality and recreational value of our state’s lakes and rivers.
  • Required counties to adopt shoreland management controls, and regulate septic systems.
  • For most counties, this was the first form of zoning or permitting that they had adopted. The Act directed DNR to develop rules/oversee program.
  • Passed by both House and Senate with large majorities (129-3 and 50-15 respectively). Signed by Governor LeVander on May 28, 1969.
1970 – DNR adopts Shoreland rules for counties
  • Applied to all basins 25 acres or greater.
  • Established lake and river classifications.
  • Established zoning standards (lot size, setbacks, subdivisions).
  • Established sewage treatment provisions (pre-dated PCA rules)
1976 – DNR adopts Shoreland rules for cities
  • Applied to all basins 10 acres or greater.
  • Addressed things like building height and sewered lots.
1982-1989 – Revisions to Shoreland Rules (Minnesota Rules, part 6120.2500-.3900)

Revisions to Shoreland Rules (Minnesota Rules, part 6120.2500-.3900)

  • Shoreland development increased by about 74% from 1967 - 1982. Permanent homes outpaced seasonal cabins during this period, and seasonal cabins were being converted to permanent homes.
  • The Legislature approved a shoreland update project to identify improvements and address emerging trends and issues.
  • After an initial failed attempt to revise the shoreland rules, the DNR engaged multiple stakeholders in a negotiated process that resulted in rules with strong support and buy-in from the agricultural community, builders, recreational enthusiasts, and environmental interests.
  • The resulting 1989 shoreland rules update:
    • Addressed agricultural uses
    • Expanded shoreland classification system for rivers
    • Enhanced performance standards
    • Imposed protections for the shore and bluff impact zones
    • Identified priority cities to adopt shoreland protections
2005 - Voluntary Alternative Shoreland Standards

Voluntary Alternative Shoreland Standards:

  • Intent was to develop rules for the north-central lakes area as part of Governor Pawlenty’s Clean Water Initiative in 2003.
  • Goal changed to provide a set of voluntary alternative standards for use throughout the state.
  • Twelve communities adopted some of these alternative standards.
2007-2010 – Legislature directs DNR to commence rulemaking to update Shoreland Rules

Legislature directs DNR to commence rulemaking to update Shoreland Rules:

  • DNR conducted an extensive public participation process.
  • Draft rules and SONAR completed in early 2010; however, Gov. Pawlenty returned the rules to DNR and the DNR’s rulemaking authority lapsed. The rules were never updated.
2017 – DNR Updates Shoreland Model Ordinance

Shoreland Model Ordinance

  • Includes graphics and commentary that explains provisions.
  • Streamlined and written in plain language.
2019 – DNR Launches Innovative Standards Webpage

Innovative Standards Webpage

  • Showcases innovative standards by local governments that exceed Minnesota Rule provisions.

View of home from lake showing trees infront of the home screening it from view. Photo of lake shore home

View of home from lake showing trees infront of the home screening it from view. Photo of lake shore home


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