By Shannon McGinty
Lake Windermere Ambassadors
We have been so fortunate this spring to see a mix of sunny days and rainfall that has our gardens thriving! But have you ever stopped to consider what impact your garden may be having on the lake? Whether your property is on the shoreline of Fort Point or is up to land in the Wilder Subdivision, what you do on your lawn may influence the health of Lake Windermere. There are many small ways that we can do to improve our lawns and gardens that will also preserve the aquatic ecosystems.
One of the greatest threats to Lake Windermere is the pollution found in wastewater runoff – water that collects human pollutants flowing over land and into the lake. There are two main ways to address this problem; improve the quality of the runoff and reduce the runoff that reaches the lake. Reducing the runoff that reaches the lake can be through a variety of ways including: Installing rain barrels to collect water from your roof to use to water your gardens; Creating “Runoff Rain Gardens” that collect the water from hard surfaces (i.e., paved driveways) and use it to passively water themselves; Selecting permeable surfaces when constructing driveways and pathways to allow the water to drain back into the soil.
A bonus to these methods, not only do they prevent harmful wastewater from entering the lake, they also reduce the need for excess water use that puts stress on our supplies, especially during hot and dry spells. We can’t prevent all runoff from reaching the lake; that is where improvements to the quality of that runoff come in. With the desire for pristine green lawns, comes the use of fertilizers to promote grass growth or herbicides to kill weeds. These additions can be harmful to lake health in various ways, including increased aquatic vegetation growth and negative impacts on native plants. We recommend avoiding the use of fertilizers and instead focusing on nurturing native species that are well adapted to the local climate. If you must use a herbicide (i.e., publicly available products such as Roundup or Killex), it should be used as a spot treatment only, and in accordance with the manufacturers application methods.
The advice above should be considered regardless of where you are in the watershed. The following applies to those who have a property that meets the water’s edge, whether that be the lake, a stream, or otherwise. You may have heard the terms such as foreshore, riparian, or shoreline used, and may feel a bit lost as to what it all means. To try and clear this up a bit, you should know that the entire shoreland area is important; the shoreland is approximate 30 meters of land from 1 meter below the water surface and up. This area is composed of three main sections; littoral (land below water), shoreline (where land meets water), and riparian (land above the water that serves as a barrier). This area is naturally composed of a diverse variety of plants, animals, and habitat features that all serve unique purposes to keep the lake healthy.
We often see sand, retaining walls, grass lawns, and other hardened surfaces added to properties up to the waters’ edge, human made additions like these limit the shorelands’ ability to function as a barrier against erosion and contaminants. The consequences of this vary from increased erosion of the shoreline, loss of habitat (i.e., spawning beds for fish species), reduced water clarity, increased water temperature, and chemical/nutrient levels from run off that result in an overall increase in stress to wildlife. These impacts all have compounding effects that lead to bigger and bigger problems, in the end rendering your waterfront property unusable due to the decline of the lake.
To maintain both property and ecosystem value, you should aim to have a natural shoreline that mimics what was there before you moved in. Some key considerations when designing or re-designing your shoreland area are: Aim for diversity – rocks, boulders, logs, and native vegetation all aid in soil stabilization, providing food and habitat, and filtering out contaminants before they enter the lake; Allow the water to filter through the soil by choosing permeable surfaces such as raised staircases, interlocking brick driveways, and woodchip pathways; Rather than having paths perpendicular to the slope, make paths meandering and parallel to slow the flow of water toward the lake, reducing runoff and erosion; Ensure use of proper precautions during construction, like silt fences and filter cloth, to reduce erosion and siltation, avoid working when the soil is loose and wet; Plant a variety of native plants throughout the littoral, shoreline, and riparian areas, take care to ensure you are not planting invasive species that may take over your garden and create additional problems! You may need to use biodegradable erosion control fabric until the plants can establish their roots; For steeper banks, consider using bioengineering. Making use of bundles of branches or root wads in combination with native vegetation may be just what you need.
Whether you live on the waters’ edge, or somewhere else in the watershed, we all have a responsibility to protect the resource we share with so many others. These are just a few tips to keep our shores green and lake blue. Feel free to contribute to this conversation on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @LakeAmbassadors.
The Lake Windermere Ambassadors would like to thank the Columbia Basin Trust, Columbia Valley Community Foundation, Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, Real Estate Foundation, BC Gaming Grants, District of Invermere, Regional District of East Kootenay and community donors for supporting our 2021 programming.
Shannon McGinty, Program Coordinator for the Lake Windermere Ambassadors. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office (250) 341-6898.