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The best ways to manage your waterfront property/Biological Bits

Biological Bits

November 23, 2012
By Tom Rozich - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

Believe It or Not? "Lake and riverfront property owners can affect water quality and fish populations more than fisheries biologists?" BELIEVE IT! Yes, waterfront residents can have huge impacts upon a lake or river's ecosystem. How? Let me explain

First and foremost, we have to understand that everything that happens in a water body's watershed directly affects the conditions in the water. A watershed is the area of land that drains snowmelt and rain water into a lake or river. Scientists have determined that once 10 percent of a watershed is in hard surfaces such as rooftops, roads, parking lots, etc., lake and/or stream water quality is impacted.

Some of the transgressions waterfront property owners unwittingly commit are: Removal of all shoreline and shallow water vegetation, which is spawning habitat for northern pike, perch and other fish, and nursery habitat for juvenile fish; constructing seawalls; pulling treetops, logs, etc. out of the near-shore area; filling adjacent wetlands; planting all their frontage to lawn and fertilize frequently; and many, many others. All of these actions increase the rate of eutrophication or enrichment. Eutrophication is the accumulation of nutrients, which increases aquatic plant growth. When the abundant aquatic plants die each year, sediments fill in the lake. This is a natural process that takes tens of thousands of years to fill in a typical lake, but the process can be greatly accelerated by human activities.

So, what can waterfront property owners do to minimize impacts on water quality? There are many Best Management Practices (BMPs) they can adopt and they are listed below.

Septic Maintenance - Maintain septic systems frequently. Septic tanks may need pumping once or twice a year to keep them operating properly. Check your beach area for excessive plant or algae growth. If the septic system is old or not functioning, the drain field should be relocated. Using low phosphorus laundry detergent can also be of benefit.

Greenbelts - Establish greenbelts or buffer strips of trees or shrubs along the water front, rather than lawns. These trap nutrients and sediments much more efficiently than lawns. Evergreen plants drop fewer leaves and thus contribute less debris and ultimately nutrients to the water. If the lakefront vegetation has not been cleared, leave it alone! Leave the natural vegetation and cut a few trees/branches to allow a filtered view of the water. Natural vegetation provides a rural visual character and it is less time consuming and expensive to maintain. That leaves more time to Go Fish!

Fertilizer Application - If you have a lawn, test the soil to see if fertilizer is needed and if so, what is lacking. Fertilizers generally contain high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which are washed into the lake every time it rains. Low-phosphorus fertilizers are available or do not fertilize the first thirty feet of area adjacent to the water.

No Dumping in the Lake - Keep all organic matter out of the water! Do not rake leaves or lawn clippings into the lake and do not burn leaves near the water. Ashes contain highly available nutrients that are easily washed into the lake. We have all seen recently burned areas in the spring and they are the greenest of green.

No Seawalls Seawalls are an extremely sterile environment, which are very harmful to all aquatic life. Many lakefront owners construct seawalls to stop or prevent erosion. However, they can actually increase erosion, as they do not absorb energy, but instead deflect it to another area. A very good alternative is field stone rock rip-rap, which is better for fish and other aquatic life. The best alternative is a natural shoreline with aquatic plants.

Direct Runoff Away from the Lake - When designing your driveway and yard area, slope them so rain runoff flows away from the lake. Also, collect the roof runoff in eave troughs and downspout them into a French drain or wetland area away from the lake.

Do Not Feed Waterfowl - Ducks and geese deposit many pounds of nutrient rich droppings in the shallow water and on the shore. Feeding encourages them to concentrate in one area multiplying the problem. They can also cause high levels of E. coli bacteria, which is toxic to humans and increases swimmer's itch problems.

Select a Wide Lot - Purchase a wide, deep lot, if possible. This allows the greatest opportunity to maximize greenbelts and setbacks from the lake or stream.

Build Back from the Water - Construct your home or cottage as far back from the water as possible. This allows more filter/buffer area.

Protect Wetlands When Building - If you are lucky enough to have wetlands on your property, please protect them. They are Mother Nature's filter! They also provide homes to a wide variety of wildlife and amphibians. One can almost hear the "spring peepers" singingCome on spring!!

Next week, Nov. 30: Waterfront Management 101 Part II. "Fish Structures in Lakes and Streams" If you build them, will they come?



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