What happens on land affects your water

Did you know that the state of your shoreline directly affects the quality of the water that you swim and play in on your own waterfront and elsewhere on the lake?

Shorelines that are eroded, hardened or bordered with lawn allow soil, pollutants and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to wash into the water. Some of these substances stay in the water and some settle to the bottom. This damages water quality and fish habitat and fertilizes excessive growth of algae and aquatic plants.

Natural shorelines, containing a variety of native plants with their deep strong root systems, slow down natural runoff and trap nutrients, pollutants and eroding soil before they can reach the water.

Natural and restored shorelines with a variety of native ground covers, wild flowers, shrubs and trees also:

  • protect against erosion from waves, boat wakes and flooding;
  • provide important habitat for a wide range of land-based and aquatic wildlife;
  • help keep geese off your property;
  • supply important food sources for bees, Monarch butterflies and other pollinators;
  • save you work – with less or no lawn to cut, you’ll have more deck and dock time!

Wildlife depends on the ribbon of life

Scientific evidence shows that the first 10 to 15 metres of shoreland and the shallow water next to it – known as the riparian zone or ribbon of life – is essential to the survival of almost all species.

Ninety percent of all lake and river life depends on shoreline areas for birth, feeding and survival. Seventy percent of land animals also depend on shorelines for survival at some point in their lives.

Hardening shorelines with concrete shore walls or large stone blocks interrupts this ribbon of life and doesn’t prevent erosion over the long term. Removing natural vegetation and replacing it with lawn destroys the food sources and protective cover that wildlife needs to survive.

How much natural shoreline is enough?

Looking at the big picture, Environment Canada guidelines say that 75 percent of a lake, 30 metres back from the shore, should be left natural to keep local populations of wildlife from disappearing.

When it comes to individual properties, research shows that a 10-metre buffer zone of natural vegetation at the shoreline is needed to protect wildlife habitat and lake water quality.

We recognize that many properties, and families’ needs for play areas, may not be able to accommodate this – but it is important to keep natural or re-naturalize as much of this 10-metre band along the edge of the water as you possibly can.

How can we get started?

Here are a few simple steps:

  • If you have a lawn down to the edge of the water or close to it, stop cutting the first three to five metres back from the shore. Native plants will start to appear and you can gradually add more and increase the width of the buffer.
  • Keep any remaining lawn at least seven centimetres tall to slow runoff. Rainwater runs off short lawn grass about twice as fast as off larger plants.
  • Think about how you use your waterfront, and whether there are parts of it not used, or rarely used. Begin to naturalize these areas.
  • To help protect the water, make sure no fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides are used, and that no gas or oil is spilled.

To find out more about the importance of natural shorelines and how to naturalize yours, see:

Click on Shoreline Plants on the menu to see a list of native plants and local plant suppliers.

Helping owners help their shorelines

An Environment Council shoreline team has been working over the past several years to engage waterfront owners in shoreline protection and restoration efforts.Early Fall Maple Colours

We ran a number of workshops, arranged for about 20 individual shoreline evaluations by a consulting biologist, and hand-delivered information to about 300 property owners. But the results have not matched our efforts.

So, we’re developing a new approach that we hope will be more successful in getting waterfront owners to take action. Watch our home page and Facebook for updates.