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
● Maintain our septic systems.
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
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