water1.jpg

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.

Federal Tax ID number 36-4513880

Screen Shot 2021-10-19 at 2.11.06 PM.png

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 Okoboji.
 

Thanks to Greg Drees and the Sioux City Journal for supplying this WSC history.

WSC Formation History
Gary Owen Safe Harbor index.3.jpg

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.


   “One of the first objectives of the WSC was to improve the radio communications for the Lake Patrol,” Petersen said. Purchased were multi-channel portable radios and a multi-channel base station at the Gull Point State Park headquarters to enhance communications with law enforcement, fire and rescue and EMS personnel.

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.