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Three ways we can reduce pollution and maintain healthy lakes

July 21, 2006

Lakehome owners have a strong desire to protect their lake. Healthy lakes provide the recreational and aesthetic benefits lakeshore residents value. In addition, healthy lakes enhance lakeshore property values. There are three ways we can reduce pollution and maintain healthy lakes.

Reduce runoff from roofs and driveways by getting rainwater into the ground near where it falls.
Reduce lawn size by reverting back to natural shorelines.
Maintain our septic systems.

Reduce Run-off

Rainwater runoff is a major source of water pollution. Nationally, runoff is responsible for up to 15 percent of rivers and lakes with poor water quality. Rainwater runoff comes from roads, driveways, roofs and lawns. Rainwater that does not infiltrate into the ground or evaporate becomes runoff. Runoff is not only occurring when streams are full after a rain, but it also occurs when small sheets of water flow over the surface of our lawns and head down to the lake. Runoff carries pollutants, such as oil, dissolved metals, pesticides, suspended solids, pet waste and nutrients, such as phosphorous, which can lead to algae blooms.

Good rainwater management can help reduce pollutants and excessive nutrients from entering our lakes. When rainwater is allowed to infiltrate into the ground, the soil and plants can purify the water before it reaches the lake or river.

There are two ways to manage rainwater. The traditional way has been to move water off fast. This approach uses stormwater sewers, pipes and ponds. Unfortunately, civil engineers have found that this expensive approach does not work well. Often, the outcome is water quality and water quantity problems downstream or downhill.

The second way of managing rainwater is to get the water and the pollutants it carries into the ground near where it falls. This can often be a small-scale, decentralized and low-cost option. This approach uses infiltration basins, rain gardens, grass overflow parking areas, grass swales, porous or pervious paver blocks, parking lot infiltration islands and fewer impervious surfaces. Infiltration reduces pollutants and nutrients entering our lakes, thus protecting the lake water quality.

For lakeshore owners, a simple start to managing rainwater is to redirect gutter downspouts that run onto impervious surfaces, such as driveways and sidewalks so they run onto vegetated areas instead. Rain gardens are a good way to capture runoff when greater infiltration is needed.

Reduce Lawn Size

Managing rainwater also includes protecting natural areas important for water transport and filtering, such as wetlands, streams, and vegetated buffers near water. A shoreline buffer of natural vegetation traps, filters and impedes runoff. The simplest and sometimes most effective way to recreate this buffer is to stop mowing down to the lake. A smaller lawn with a larger shoreline buffer will help infiltration and reduce runoff.

Maintain Septic Systems

Finally, for those lakehome owners who use septic systems to treat and disperse waste and recycle water, maintenance is critical. Sludge builds up in the septic tank and should be pumped out every two to three years. If sludge accumulates to the level of the outlet pipe, clogging will occur, which will damage the drainfield and reduce the life expectancy of the system. Drainfields can also fail when they are overloaded, either with too much water or too much garbage disposal waste. The average life of a drainfield is 10 to 20 years.

Lakehome owner management of septic systems is sometimes inadequate. Some government organizations and communities have developed septic system management programs that track routine maintenance and compliance with public health standards. These programs can save homeowners money, because regular maintenance and inspection costs are much less than cost to replace failed systems.

The Governor's Clean Water Initiative pilot project brought people together to create an alternative set of shoreland development standards. Citizens that worked on the Shoreland Standards Update project recommended promoting better rainwater management techniques. The Alternative Standards could serve as the foundation for local government administered ordinances.

Details of the shoreland rules update project are online at www.dnr.state.mn.us


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