Being Lake Smart

The best watershed management is applied at the source, but this means getting property owners to actively participate. Watershed management is a challenge, but there are programs to help. One such program is LakeSmart, a program of the Maine Lakes Society (MLS). LakeSmart educates, assists, and recognizes property owners who maintain their home sites in ways that manage storm water and waste water to minimize impacts on lakes. The program was created in 2004 by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), expanded in 2009 by a partnership between the Society and DEP, and is now fully privatized under the Maine Lakes Society. The MLS presents its distinctive blue and white signs to homeowners who meet program criteria, and is approaching its 5-year goal of 60 lake association participants by 2018.

LakeSmart awards were presented to over 80 homeowners during the summer of 2015.   Posted at the lakeside and driveway entrances of a property, the distinctive blue and white sign identifies the owner as a person who cares enough to take action to protect the lake. Properties that display the sign show others what lake-friendly living looks like, arouse interest, and motivate similar behavior by other community members. The MLS model for running LakeSmart is cost-effective, leveraging the power, interest and commitment of lake association members to speed the program’s spread.

Many homeowners grew up with suburban landscaping and are accustomed to its tidy lawns and open space. But suburban lawns, with big driveways and wide paths, are deadly for our lakes. LakeSmart landscaping provides a healthy alternative that mimics nature’s rich mosaic of plants, shrubs, winding paths, and shady trees. It looks great, enhances privacy, and works hard to protect property values, wildlife habitat, water quality, recreational opportunities and the vitality of local economies. It looks even better when you understand how important it is to minimize nutrient inputs to lakes. It may be hard to believe that one person’s expansive lawn or eroding camp road could be a threat to something as large and enduring as a lake, but when added to a shoreline full of similar sites, it can have a very real impact, especially over multiple years. All storm water that gets into a lake carries nutrients. Over time, the cumulative impact can be thousands of pounds of pollutants. The result, “death by a thousand cuts,” leads to algae blooms, fish kills, and the loss of water clarity and spawning habitat. One tiny rivulet from one rainstorm may not seem like much, but when multiplied across a lake watershed and added up over decades, eroded soil can turn a lake into a smelly, pea green mess.

This is a program that can be applied anywhere. It is certainly easier to build a lake-friendly property from the start, but retrofitting and minimizing impacts is not really that hard in most cases. Check out the MLS LakeSmart program at http://mainelakessociety.org/lakesmart-2/ and contact Maggie Shannon at the Maine Lakes Society at msshannon@mainelakessociety.org  for more information.