Did You Know: The US Lake War

Did You Know: The US Lake War
Learn more about the friendly feud between Wisconsin and Minnesota, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A watered-down retelling of an amusing and decades-long rivalry

Nayanika Mukherjee
October 06 , 2019
02 Min Read

The American Midwest has had a silent lake war brewing for quite some time. No, not the kind with guns ablazing (though we get why anyone would be confused). Instead, it's a polite tussle between two states over geographical superiority, and an age-old question—who has the most lakes?

The friendly animosity has been there for years, with banter and good-natured pranks colouring social media, but Wisconsin unintentionally made the first move towards dominance this May. A state tourism official went on radio to announce that the state had 15,000 freshwater lakes, and, when asked by the host, proudly declared that it was definitely more than Minnesota, a state that prides itself on this aspect. So intrinsically Minnesotan is this identity, that their state license plates show off being a resident of the land of '10,000 lakes'

Both the host (and, instantly, Minnesotans) were awash with disbelief. The sheer audacity. But according to state government statistics, the claim seemed to hold up. Minnesota documented 11,842 lakes within its borders, but Wisconsin registered a larger tally at 15,074. The argument seemed to be over...or was it?

Turns out, the states differed on what was a lake! Wisconsin's rulings were a bit more relaxed, while Minnesota was rigid that the waterbody's area ought to be greater than 10 acres. By that standard, Wisconsin would only have 5,898 lakes. Many of them were even unnamed. Keeping all of this in consideration, a fact-checking site tilted the scales in Minnesota's favour. We pictured Marshall from How I Met Your Mother, a Minnesota native, chest-thumping away to glory. The story also opened up hefty lake discourse in public imagination. That isn't really a sentence you see very often, but hey, it's America.

A lot of grief was lost over classification: lake vs lagoon, if-a-lake-is-seasonal-is-it-actually-a-pond, and so on. For real estate purposes, people had even renamed ponds into lakes, and vice versa. We're not sure how and why this continued so long, but like everyone else, we're now dying to know the answer.

While the Wisconsin tourism official still stubbornly maintains they have more lakes than Minnesota, it turns out by just still, ambiguous waterbody count, Minnesota comes out on top with 124,662 bodies. Wisconsin, in comparison, has 82,009. Now that you're aware of this amazingly trivial but funny battle, have a great Sunday! 

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