Your Lake & You

What Is A Lake?
“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” Henry David Thoreau in Walden.

A lake is a depression in the landscape that holds water. Lakes are formed by glaciers, volcanic eruptions, the movement of the earth’s crust, and other processes. Lakes are also formed by humans when they build dams along rivers and “impound” the water into artificial lakes. A spring-fed lake is one fed by groundwater, while a drainage lake is one fed by water flowing over the land. The surface area of lakes can range in size from less than an acre to the 31,700 square miles of Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh water lake. Lakes are considered temporary features in the landscape because all lakes eventually disappear as they slowly fill in with soil, dead plants and fish, and other materials. This natural aging process of lakes is called eutrophication. The time this takes depends on the lake’s size, surrounding geology, ecosystem conditions, and other factors.

How Does A Lake Work
Connections is the most important word to keep in mind when considering how a lake works. Because of connections, any change in one part of the lake’s ecosystem affects the rest. The symptoms of these effects can range from very simple ones, like a teaspoon of new algae in an area of the lake that has been clear until now, to drastic ones like floating, dead fish. To access your lake’s health is to study its connections.

Connections: Everything is connected to everything else, so know your lake’s ecosystem!

The Lake Ecosystem
The word “eco” comes from the Greek word oikos meaning home. Your lake’s ecosystem is home to many creatures like frogs, fish, insects, ducts, muskrats, crayfish, microscopic animals like daphnia, birds and people. The lake’s water, the land surrounding it, the plants, animals, and minerals, all water draining into the lake as well as the natural processes described below, are all part of the lake ecosystem. These components of the lake ecosystem interact with one another in very complex and interdependent ways.

The Properties Of Lakes
Lakes have interrelated physical, chemical and biological properties. Disruption in one property affect the other. For example, when rain washes chemical fertilizers off your lawn and into the lake, this alters the chemical properties of the lake. The altered lake chemistry can result in new conditions in the lake that may, for example, increase the growth of algae and zooplankton and help certain types of fish species prosper while others decline. Thus the changes chemistry can actually increase the biological productivity of the lake. This may not be good. Wish more fish in the lake, bottom sediments may be more easily disturbed thus affecting physical properties such as water clarity.

Lake Cycles and Processes
Lake are governed by cycles and processes. In the hydrological (or water) cycle, water moves in a roughly circular pattern. Water falls from the air (in the form of rain or snow) to the surface of the land, rivers, and lakes. The water then moves across the land and flows into the lakes and rivers or perhaps seeps through to groundwater. Finally, water returns to the air due to either 1) evaporation from lake or land surfaces or 2) transpiration from plants. Plants, especially algae, are the foundation of the food web in a lake ecosystem. Green plants use sunlight in a process called photosynthesis to create oxygen and sugar from water and carbon dioxide. Fish and other organisms use the oxygen to breathe, and bacteria and fungi use it to decompose plant and animal matter on the bottom of the lake.

This article taken from “Your Lake & You” by the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS)

Water Conservation

How to Conserve Water and Use It Effectively

Practices for Residential Users
An average three-member household can reduce its water use by 54,000 gallons annually and can lower water bills by about $60 per year if water-efficient plumbing fixtures are used.

Toilets, showers, and faucets combined represent two-thirds of all indoor water use. More than 4.8 billion gallons of water is flushed down toilets each day in the United States. The average American uses about 9,000 gallons of water to flush 230 gallons of waste down the toilet per year. Conventional toilets use 3.5 to 5 gallons or more of water per flush, but low-flush toilets use only 1.6 gallons of water or less.

Low-Flow Showerheads. Showers account for about 20 percent of total indoor water use. By replacing standard 4.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads with 2.5-gallon-per-minute heads, which cost less than $5 each, a family of four can save approximately 20,000 gallons of water per year.

Faucet Aerators. Faucet aerators, which break the flowing water into fine droplets and entrain air while maintaining wetting effectiveness, are inexpensive devices that can be installed in sinks to reduce water use. Aerators can be easily installed and can reduce the water use at a faucet by as much as 60% while still maintaining a strong flow. More efficient kitchen and bathroom faucets that use only 2 gallons of water per minute–unlike standard faucets, which use 3 to 5 gallons per minute–are also available.

Pressure Reduction. Because flow rate is related to pressure, the maximum water flow from a fixture operating on a fixed setting can be reduced if the water pressure is reduced. For example, a reduction in pressure from 100 pounds per square inch to 50 psi at an outlet can result in a water flow reduction of about one-third. Homeowners can reduce the water pressure in a home by installing pressure-reducing valves. The use of such valves might be one way to decrease water consumption in homes that are served by municipal water systems. A reduction in water pressure can save water in other ways: it can reduce the likelihood of leaking water pipes, leaking water heaters, and dripping faucets. It can also help reduce dishwasher and washing machine noise and breakdowns in a plumbing system.

Nationally, lawn care accounts for about 32 percent of the total residential outdoor use. Other outdoor uses include washing automobiles, maintaining swimming pools, and cleaning sidewalks and driveways.

Xeriscape Landscapes. Careful design of landscapes could significantly reduce water usage nationwide. Xeriscape landscaping is an innovative, comprehensive approach to landscaping for water conservation and pollution prevention. Traditional landscapes might incorporate one or two principles of water conservation, but xeriscape landscaping uses all of the following: planning and design, soil analysis, selection of suitable plants, practical turf areas, efficient irrigation, use of mulches, and appropriate maintenance (Welsh et al., 1993). Benefits of xeriscape landscaping include reduced water use, decreased energy use (less pumping and treatment required), reduced heating and cooling costs because of carefully placed trees, decreased storm water and irrigation runoff, fewer yard wastes, increased habitat for plants and animals, and lower labor and maintenance costs.

Behavioral Practices
Behavioral practices involve changing water use habits so that water is used more efficiently, thus reducing the overall water consumption in a home. These practices require a change in behavior, not modifications in the existing plumbing or fixtures in a home. Behavioral practices for residential water users can be applied both indoors in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room and outdoors.

In the kitchen, for example, running the dishwasher only when it is full can save 10 to 20 gallons of water a day. If dishes are washed by hand, water can be saved by filling the sink or a dishpan with water rather than running the water continuously. An open conventional faucet lets about 5 gallons of water flow every 2 minutes.

Water can be saved in the bathroom by turning off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving. Taking short showers rather than long showers or baths and turning the water off while soaping can save water. Installing low-flow showerheads, as discussed earlier can increase this water savings even further.

Water can be saved in the laundry room by adjusting water levels in the washing machine to match the size of the load. If the washing machine does not have a variable load control, running the machine only when it is full can save water.

Outdoor water use can be reduced by watering the lawn early in the morning or late in the evening and on cooler days, when possible, to reduce evaporation. Allowing the grass to grow slightly taller will reduce water loss by providing more ground shade for the roots and by promoting water retention in the soil. Growing plants that are suited to the area (“indigenous” plants) can save more than 50 percent of the water normally used to care for outdoor plants.

As much as 150 gallons of water can be saved when washing a car by turning the hose off between rinses. The car should be washed on the lawn if possible to reduce runoff.

Additional savings of water can result from sweeping sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down. Washing a sidewalk or driveway with a hose uses about 50 gallons of water every 5 minutes. If a home has an outdoor pool, covering the pool when it is not in use can save water.

Soil Erosion

Lake Enemy #1 – Soil Erosion
Did you know that soil erosion from runoff accounts for approximately 67% of our unwanted phosphorus levels?

What is Soil Erosion and How Does it Affect Our Lakes?
Erosion is the loss of soil by the action of water, ice, gravity, or wind. Soil erosion is a natural process that can be greatly accelerated by human activities which remove protective vegetation and expose the soil. Soil erosion resulting from human activity can be as much as 100 times the natural erosion rate. When it rains the raindrops wash away the soil particles. These particles are then carried along by the runoff and combine with many other particles from the same area. The runoff flows to low points, usually a lake or river. This increases the sediment load or sedimentation of the waterbody. Too much sediment can be harmful to a waterbody.

Sediment can carry nutrients such as phosphorus, which act as natural fertilizers and promote the growth of algae. Too much algae reduces the water clarity and uses up the oxygen in the water that the fish and other organisms need to survive. Sediment deposits in shallow water areas can provide a good place where aquatic plants can proliferate. Soil erosion and sedimentation can also cloud the water and decrease the penetration of sunlight in deeper water. Over time this will decrease the depth of a lake and promote aquatic plant life. Sediment finally settles out and may smother important insects and plants that live on the lake bottom.

What Are the Conditions That Encourage Erosion?

  • The primary cause of soil erosion is the removal of protective grasses, shrubs and trees. This vegetative cover protects against erosion three primary ways: it shields the soil from the impact of raindrops; its “vegetative litter” made up of dead leaves, needles and twigs slow and filter the rainfall runoff, and its root system acts like a net and holds the soil together.
  • Soil containing large quantities of fine sand and silt are more erodible than other soils.
  • Exposed soils on long and/or steep slopes can promote soil erosion.
  • A large sloping area above and area of disturbed soil adds to the water flowing over the surface. More flowing water increases the erosion problem.
  • Poorly managed construction sites also encourage erosion.

How to Prevent Erosion

  • Preserve and promote growth of natural grasses, trees and shrubs to the greatest extent possible.
  • Minimize the area and the length of time soils are exposed.
  • Only disturb soil from May to mid-September when conditions favor proper erosion controls.
  • Use soil erosion control methods (such as mulch, matting, silt fences, or hay bales) during construction.
  • Divert runoff around areas or bare or disturbed soils.
  • NEVER have street runoff drain directly to the lake.

Landscaping Tips

  • Maintain the natural grass, trees and shrubs wherever possible.
  • Plant trees, shrubs, and ground covers, or use mulches to cover bare soil. Trees and plants and mulches trap and hold water.
  • Correct mowing height may be the single most important factor in the health of your lawn. Mowing height for most lawns should be about 2 to 3 inches. A healthy lawn holds rainwater, filters out dirt and pollutants, and requires less watering.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. This reduces the need for fertilizers and water. (Lawn Fertilizers running into the lake promotes weed growth).

Sloping Property

  • Create terraces to slow runoff and prevent erosion on steep slopes.
  • Add a row of rocks or shrubs across a slop to interrupt water as it flows downhill.
  • Water with care. Do not soak lawn or garden areas on or near steep slopes.
  • When planting these areas select plants (especially native plants) that do not need intense or deep watering.
  • If you lay sod, place strips across, not down the slope.
  • Limit activity that disturbs the soil on unprotected steep slopes.

Septic System Tips

  • Have your tank cleaned every 2 or 3 years.
  • Stagger baths and wash loads to avoid overload.
  • Don’t pour paint thinner, pesticides, photographic chemicals, or motor oil into drains or toilets.
  • Never dispose of grease, fat, coffee grounds, paper towels or facial tissues in sinks or toilets.
  • Use only white, non-fluffy toilet tissue; dyes are harmful to bacteria needed for decomposition.
  • Be sparing in your use of chemical drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and bleach.
  • Use a garbage disposer sparingly or not at all.
  • Direct the runoff from roof gutters and downspouts away from the drainage field.
  • Don’t drive or park over the drainage field.
  • Call for service if smelly water rises from the drainage field or if water backs up out of drains.
  • Don’t use commercial tank treatments; they can liquefy sludge, which can then flow into the drainage field and clog its lines. To hasten decomposition, every 6 months mix 1/2 pond of brewer’s yeast in warm water and flush it down the toilet.

Sediment Pollution

Sediment is the number one pollutant to waterbodies worldwide and the cause of a variety of problems in lakes and ponds. Sediments create turbidity and fill up pond and lake basins, thus reducing their recreational use. Algae causing nutrients and heavy metals can piggyback on sediments, getting a free ride to the lake or pond. Excessive heavy metals can make lake sediments toxic, preventing rooted plant growth and decreasing the number of aquatic organisms living in the sediments.

The soundest approach to curtail sediment pollution is to prevent sediments from getting into a stream, lake, pond, or reservoir in the first place.

Another important action is to protect streambanks and lake shorelines from eroding. Streambanks and shorelines contribute sediments directly to a lake or stream, and the best erosion control programs on upland areas can be undermined if erosion is not checked on streambanks and lake shorelines.

Homeowner Projects
Homeowners can’t expect the city or village to handle all sediment problems. Homeowners can have a positive impact of their own. A lengthy list could be compiled, but here are 10 projects that will prevent sediment or other pollutants from running off your property and into the aquatic ecosystem.

  1. Test your soil for fertilizer requirements (most university extensions or garden Centers have inexpensive soil testing programs). You may be surprised to find you don’t need to fertilize at all.
  2. Use native and adapted plants that have low fertilizer needs.
  3. Keep your grass two to three inches in height and mow often enough so that clippings can be left in place.
  4. Seed bare soil and cover it with mulch as soon as possible to minimize erosion.
  5. Substitute safe solutions for harsh chemicals whenever possible. For example: use equal parts of boric acid and powdered sugar to kill roaches, pour boiling water deep into problem ant hills to control ants, use a garden hose to knock aphids and spider mites off plants (spray every three days for nine days to interrupt their egg cycle), and plant marigolds, mint, or garlic on the garden fringe to repel plant pests.
  6. Compost leaves and grass clippings (if you decide to collect them).
  7. Direct roof downspouts to broad grassy areas so that water can soak in, and consider using the old rain barrel to catch roof runoff; the water can be used later to water your lawn, flowers or garden.
  8. For waterfront properties, grow a ‘buffer strip” of natural vegetation along the water’s edge; it will filter pollutants and help stabilize the shoreline.
  9. Taking buffer strips a step further, consider “landscaping for wildlife”. This alternative emphasizes shrubs, flower gardens, and trees – and cuts down on the amount of lawn you have to maintain.
  10. Be observant and implement your own projects. For example, washing your car on the grass rather than the driveway or street allows soapy water to soak into the ground, rather than run off, picking up other pollutants on its way to a stream, lake, or pond. (The soapy water won’t hurt the grass.)

Purple Loosestrife – Norton Pond


Purple plant pullers to patrol Norton Pond
Many people call it “those purple flowers” growing in masses along ponds and wetlands. Sometimes, people even find it attractive enough to dig up and plant in their home gardens. But that’s not a good thing to do with purple loosestrife, the tall-stalk flowers that grow in abundance in places such as Chartley Pond in Norton, says middle school science teacher Karen Silvi.

In fact, she and members of her high school Envirothon Team will be out on the pond’s banks Sunday as part of a “purple loosestrife pull” project. They will start at the Chartley Pond dam at 8 a.m. and depending on the heat of the day, continue until noon. Members of the public are welcome to lend a hand, say Silvi and Conservation Agent Jennifer Carlino.

Silvi, who lives in Mansfield and has led students of the Envirothon Team after-school program at Norton High School on similar projects for the past six years, says while the purple blooms may be pretty to look at, they have no natural predators. They take over an area, choking off other species.

She said it was important to do the pulling now, before the flowers go to seed. “Otherwise, they’ll grow back next year.” Silvi said she contacted Carlino for a site for this year’s project and it was Carlino who suggested Chartley Pond. Carlino said that she would provide a canoe to aid the project. The purple loosestrife pulled will be burned – one sure way of getting rid of it, said Silvi.

Water samples will also be collected that day by students and chemists from Texas Instruments, a partner in the venture, who tests for E. coli, among other bacteria. That information will be passed along to town officials as well as used by the students who will participate in the state competition of school Envirothon teams during the coming school year.

“The best we’ve ever come in is fifth,” said Silvi. Last year it was twelfth place of 55 teams. “That’s not bad for a small town like Norton,” she said. “Each year we pick a new problem,” said Silvi of the Envirothon team projects. Categories have included open space and wetlands. This year, it is exotic, otherwise known as evasive, plants, like the loosestrife, “that are kicking out the biodiversity in ponds in Massachusetts,” she said. Students in the competition take a five-section test on wildlife, aquatics, soil and other aspects of their community problem. Then a panel of 5 judges asks them questions. “They ask how it got here, what purposes does it have here,” among other likely questions, said Silvi.

The purple loosestrife is considered an exotic invader, having come to North America through Europe in the 1800’s. It has become a serious threat to wetlands and other waterways in the past two decades. The problem with purple loosestrife , as with any invasive plant, said Silvi, is that “it doesn’t allow native plants to grow. No animals eat it, it has no natural enemies, so it takes off” in growth. That is why it’s not recommended that people decide to plant it in their yards. Silvi said the “pull” project at the pond may be continued in the fall.

Property Values

You Better Believe It…Water Quality Does Affect Property Values!

A recent study was conducted by the University of Maine (Dept. of Resource Economic & Policy) on one type of benefit associated with lake water quality, the extent to which water quality becomes capitalized into the value of lake-front properties.

The experiment considered that two lake-front properties on different lakes with identical property characteristics except water quality, would result in a higher value for the property on the lake with higher water quality. The difference in values is the premium paid to own property on the lake with higher water quality.

The possibility was investigated using property sales data from 34 lakes in six market groups and statistically estimating the share of selling prices attributable to the lake-water quality. Preliminary estimates indicate that a one meter improvement in water clarity will enhance property values from $2,400 to $7,400 (1994 data) depending on the market group being considered.

This information was used in public education efforts to convince community leaders and property owners that they benefit directly from actions they take to maintain and improve lake water quality in their communities. “Expenditures on lake protection is money well spent”.

Planting Shoreline Areas

By: Ralph M. Winslow, Jr. Extension Educator, Agricultural Resources & Community Development

Despite increased awareness about environmental issues, the activities of those who live near our lakes and rivers could adversely affect the quality of those waters. Land use activities within a watershed, especially along shorelines, can have a tremendous impact on the quality of adjacent surface waters. By considering some of the following landscaping techniques, shoreland residents can help protect our ground and surface waters for all to use and enjoy.

Fertilize Properly
The law states that “no fertilizer, except lime or wood ash, shall be used on lawns or areas with grass on residential properties” within this 250 zone. A soil test is invaluable in determining and, if necessary, in raising the soil pH, enabling turf to make the best use of available soil nutrients.

Water Wisely
Over-watering can greatly increase the movement of nutrients and other substances into groundwater. For most growing situations, about one inch of rainfall per week, either natural or artificial, is sufficient for adequate growth. The addition of organic matter to soil, the use of mulches, and the application of xeroscaping techniques, landscaping to minimize water use, can further reduce the need for supplemental water. These practices will help conserve a valuable natural resource and will help reduce the potential for nutrients and sediment to affect our ground and surface waters.

Proper Turf Management
Since fertilizer applications are prohibited on residential lawns within this shoreland zone, proper turf management takes on renewed importance. Grass kept at a height of 2 1/2″ – 3″ during the months of July and August can withstand heat and drought stress better than closely clipped grass. This higher mowing height encourages deeper rooting, reducing the need for frequent watering. It will also allow turf to more successfully out-compete broad leaved weeds, reducing the need for weed control. In addition, unmown grass tends to make a very good erosion and nutrient barrier. Its fibrous root system and dense top growth can greatly slow and reduce surface runoff and help intercept nutrients and pesticides.

Grow Low Maintenance Grasses
Due to lower maintenance requirements, there is increased interest in and research devoted to the development of dwarf turf grasses. These grasses, such as fine leaf fescues and perennial ryes, perform well with lower inputs of fertilizer, water, mowing and pesticides.

Use Alternative Landscaping
Using alternative landscaping techniques, such a groundcovers, rock gardens or shrubs mulched with bark or stones, can greatly reduce the need for turf areas and can help reduce or eliminate fertilizer and water needs, helping to prevent ground and surface water pollution from shoreland areas.

Maintain Natural Buffer Areas
Keeping a portion of a property between lawns or gardens and any stream, pond or wetland in native vegetation will help reduce the impact on surface waters. Buffer areas will help to remove nutrients that might be included in the runoff from lawn areas during intense rain storms and snow melt. These areas also provide food and habitat for birds and other wildlife. Many native shrubs and ground covers would be good choices for these buffer areas, especially those with dense surface root systems. Trees are important plants for buffers, too, but too much shade at ground level may inhibit the growth of many under-story plants. Good site analysis and evaluation is critical for the successful planting of buffer areas. Knowing the existing growing conditions, sunny or shady, dry or moist, is essential for proper plant selection.

Organic Lawn Fertilizer

The following article is excerpted from the Lake Maspenock News, February 1997, Issue

Lake Community Fertilizer
Although I enjoy landscaping and take pride in my green lawn, the fact that I too could be contributing to the proliferation of the weed scourge concerned me and I was looking for alternatives. In the past I had used an organic fertilizer (I 5-3-7) which was lower in phosphorous than the traditional commercial brand, and due to its slow release capabilities, necessitated less frequent use.

What I learned from Gerry Smith (Aquatic Control Technologies) was that there is an available lake-friendly fertilizer that is phosphorous free(l”-5), 1-5% nitrogen, 0% phosphorous, and 5% potash. One pound of phosphorous can result in over 10,000 lbs. wet weight of weeds and algae growth. Most lawn fertilizers contain 5 to 15% phosphorous or 2.5 to 7.5 lbs. per 50 lb. bag. It doesn’t take too many pounds of phosphorous to encourage and support excessive weed and algae growth.

Of the total nitrogen In Lake Community Fertilizer, 50% is of the slow release formulation which will feed your lawn for 2-3 months. Two applications, one in early spring, and a second in the fall, will provide adequate “greening power” for nearly every lawn. A 50-lb. bag of Lake Community Fertilizer will cover approximately 7500 sq. ft. of lawn area. Most established lawns require little, if any, phosphorous if proper soil pH is maintained by the addition of lime.

As Gerry noted, the only significant benefit of phosphorous is for root development in a new lawn. In summation, using Lake Community fertilizer is a contribution that you can make that helps the lake and your lawn. -Aquatic Control Technology, Inc. is willing to provide LMPA members (…also BLA members…) with Lake Community Fertilizer at a cost of $21.75 for a 50-lb. bag. However, Gerry needs an LMPA order of ten or more bags. Please join me in the fight against weed infestation on our lake.

Dave Gibbs (LMPA)

Nutrient Overload Tips

What Can I Do To Help Protect Our Lake from nutrient overload?
Any activity that reduces the input of phosphorus and sediment erosion into a lake is good; any activity that increases these inputs is bad. List below are activities YOU can do to help reduce phosphorus and sediment inputs.

  1. Have your septic system pumped out at least every other year or whenever the sludge level exceeds one-third of the tank capacity.
  2. Maintain your septic system properly. Be sure your system is designed to handle the load it receives. A system should be increased in size when-ever the frequency (seasonal to year-round) or volume (additional people, washing machines, etc.) of use increases. Keep products that cannot be broken down out of the system.
  3. Check your leach field for soft or wet areas or septic smells. Replace faulty systems.
  4. Do not use phosphorus containing detergents when you bathe, shampoo, or wash boats, pets or other objects in the lake. Do not wash automobiles near the lake where the detergent can run into the water.
  5. Use a non-phosphate detergent when washing clothes.
  6. Keep land clearing to a minimum. Revegetate bare areas to minimize erosion to the lake. Roads and paths leading to the lake should be curved to reduce erosion.
  7. Maintain a buffer zone of natural vegetation along the shore to contain erosion and assimilate nutrients before they reach the lake.
  8. Do not use fertilizer near the lake shore. Make it prestigeful to have shore fronts with natural vegetation, rather than green, manicured lawns.
  9. Do not burn brush or leaves near the shore; the nutrients remain behind to be washed into the lake during the first rain. Do not dump leaves or grass clippings in or near the lake. They also add nutrients to the water.
  10. Do not stir up shallow areas in boats. The nutrient-laden bottom sediments can be churned into the overlying water to support increased algae growth.

Remember, a clean lake is a happy lake…Please do your part!