6 ways to protect your lake’s water quality

Published: January 9, 2020 · Updated: January 10, 2020

dog runs in the lake Christian Mueller/shutterstock

Want to improve water quality on your lake? Why not prevent overland flooding and erosion and help your forests at the same time? Here are 6 simple things you can do at the cottage to be a hero.

1. Never put soap in the lake.

Soaps add phosphorus to the water, which, along with fertilizers and poorly maintained septic systems, can lead to excessive plant growth, unhealthy blue-green algae build up in the lake, and poor water quality for aquatic life. Even if the soap is phosphate free and biodegradable, this is still a no-no (biodegradable means it biodegrades in soil). Love bathing en plein air? We get it. Add building an outdoor shower that is plumbed into your septic system onto your project list for the summer. 

2. Make sure your septic system is up to sniff, er, snuff.

You can avoid contaminating groundwater and nearby lakes and rivers by getting your septic inspected regularly (check with your municipality for your local requirements), and pumped out every 3-5 years. Talk to your cottage association about organizing a group pump-out for reduced price and to get more cottagers onboard. If you’re hosting a party or a crowd, don’t overwhelm your system—rent a portable for the weekend. Many companies now offer upscale versions with running water. 

3. Poop and scoop.

At the lake? Yes, at the lake. Pollution from dog duty has been identified in many areas as a major source of water contamination that is harmful for dogs, people, and wildlife—its phosphorus content contributes to blue-green algae growth and the E. coli it carries can make people sick. Bag it and dispose of it according to your municipal garbage rules, or flush it. 

4. Move back from shore to refuel.

When refilling your gas tanks for things such as outboard engines, generators, and chainsaws, keep well away from shore. Best practice is to do it over a tray in on a hard floor. 

5. Hold onto rain.

You can reduce runoff in two ways: Replace hard-scaped paths with wood chips, small pebbles, and permeable paving stone. Also, surround stone and brick patios with rain gardens, a planted depression that will catch overflowing rain. Why does this help keep the lake clean? It allows runoff to soak into the soil, rather than running straight into the lake. That allows filtration of any pollution, reduces shoreline erosion, and protects water quality from suspended sediment. Plus it gives your trees much needed moisture, allowing them to better get through dry spells between heavy rain events. 

6. Stop mowing and “tidying up” your shoreline. 

Who wants to cut the grass on their summer holidays? Allowing a buffer of tall grasses and native plants such as dogwood to grow up at the shoreline, you allow their roots to trap nutrients in runoff, protect your shoreline from erosion, and provide critical habitat for wildlife in the water and on the land. And let fallen logs hang out by the water’s edge for critters needing shelter and a drink. You’re not being lazy while you lounge in the hammock. You’re helping save the lake.

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