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Water: Lakes

Natural Lakeshore Tips

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EPA's first-ever assessment of the ecological condition of the nation’s lakes, the National Lakes Assessment, identifies poor lakeshore habitat and high levels of nutrients as leading stressors affecting the biological health of lakes. Many lakeshore property owners buy their lots to fish and enjoy nature, but then unknowingly harm shorelands and shallows by replacing natural vegetation with lawns, clearing shrubs and trees, importing sand to make artificial beaches, and installing expansive structures close to the water’s edge.  To protect our lakes, we need to protect our lakeshores.

This page lists ten tips for improved lakeshore stewardship, focusing on natural lakeshores -- lakeshores with plenty of native trees, shrubs, and overhanging vegetation. Natural lakeshores lead to better habitat for bass and other fish and improved water quality, which can in turn help enhance the value of lakefront property. 

Natural lakeshores protect fish and wildlife habitat.

Dragon flyThe more homes, resorts, marinas, roads, and docks we build near lakes, the more we endanger the habitat of the fish and wildlife that live in and around the lake. Preserving native vegetation around lakes is critical to a healthy lake ecosystem. Learn more about life at the water’s edge at The Waters Edge: Helping fish and wildlife on your lakeshore property (PDF) (12 pp, 630K)

Shoreline trees protect lake water quality.

Trees and other vegetation along the lakeshore help buffer lakes from the impacts of development. Overhanging trees also provide cooling shade for fish and other aquatic animals that live in the shallows. To learn more about trees and water quality, visit Agroforestry: Working Trees for Water Quality (PDF) (6 pp, 1.1MB) and Agroforestry: Working Trees for Communities (PDF) (6 pp, 948K)

Natural lakeshores keep out polluted runoff.

yellow flowers

When it rains, pollution on the land (such as sediment from construction sites, oil and grease from roads and parking lots, and fertilizers from lawns) flows into streams and lakes. A natural lakeshore has plenty of native trees, shrubs, and overhanging vegetation to slow the flow of polluted runoff before it reaches your lake. Learn more about polluted runoff at Polluted Runoff (Nonpoint Source Pollution) Web site

Native plants help lake wildlife.

yellow flower with bee

Native plants play an important role in the local ecosystem, are adapted to local conditions, and are generally low maintenance. When planted or allowed to thrive along the lakeshore, they provide shelter, food, and habitat for song birds, butterflies, fish and aquatic life in the lake. Learn more about native plants at the PlantNative and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Web sites

Plant a rain garden, help your lake.

rain garden

A rain garden is an attractive landscaping feature planted with perennial native plants. Placed where it can intercept the water running from downspouts or hard surfaces, it allows rain water to soak in rather than run off into lakes and streams. Learn more about rain gardens at Rain Gardens of West Michigan

Natural lakeshores help prevent erosion.

Natural lakeshores with abundant trees, shrubs, and native grasses are "living shorelines" that use deep, strong plant roots to stabilize soil. Natural lakeshores provide habitat, filter runoff from the land, and create natural buffers that absorb wave energy and reduce shoreline erosion. If your lakeside property has artificial bulkheads, consider replacing them with a softer "living" shoreline. Learn more about preventing shoreline erosion at Shoreline Alterations: Natural Buffers and Lakescaping (PDF) (6 pp, 948K)

"Perfect" lawns are not perfect for your lake - try natural landscaping.

small red flowers

"Perfect" smooth green lawns require frequent mowing, watering, fertilizers and pesticides. When it rains, fertilizers and pesticides can run off into your lake and harm its quality. Consider decreasing the size of your lakeside lawn by planting native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs to provide lakeshore wildlife habitat, stabilize shorelines, and reduce the need for irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers. Learn more about natural landscaping at the Homeowners - GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard web site,

Lighten up on lawn chemicals, for your lake's sake.

Fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers we apply on our lawns can wash into our lakes when it rains. Nutrients in fertilizers can lead to algae blooms and lower oxygen levels for fish and other aquatic animals; pesticides and weed killers can be toxic to people, pets, beneficial insects, fish and wildlife. Protect your lake by minimizing or eliminating use of fertilizers and other yard chemicals. Learn more about environmentally beneficial landscaping at GreenScapes: Environmentally Beneficial Landscaping - Save Time and Money and Have a Greener, Healthier Yard! (PDF) (29 pp, 1.6MB) and Six Easy Steps to a Safe and Healty Lawn for Kids and Pets Web site

Natural lakeshores are picture perfect.

boat on still water at sunset

Studies show that most of us come to lakes simply to enjoy their natural beauty. Natural lakeshores are beautiful; they also contribute to improved water quality, which can help increase the value of lakefront property. Keep your lake "picture perfect" by protecting its natural shoreline. Learn more about the economic value of high quality lakes at the Bureau of Land & Water Quality Web site

Get involved! Protect your lake's natural shoreline.

Begin by being an example to others and ensure that your lakeshore property is as lake friendly as it can be. Educate your neighbors and friends about natural landscaping, native plants, living shorelines, and the importance of lakeshore buffers in protecting the quality of your lake. Get involved with your local lake association or visit the EPA's Adopt Your Watershed Web site to find a volunteer group near you that is involved in protecting lakes and their watersheds.

For more information on lakes, visit Clean Lakes

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