Incompatibility of Common Lake Management Goals

When we speak of lake management goals, we are usually thinking about objectives like maximizing water quality for drinking water supply or contact recreation, improved conditions to enhance fishing opportunity, physical arrangements to increase boating access or enjoyment, or protection of habitat features that support valued wildlife. But it is very hard for a lake to be all things to all users. Not all goals are completely compatible, especially in smaller waterbodies where spatial separation of uses is difficult to achieve. A lake can serve multiple uses, but usually it is necessary to have a priority order for uses and goals, so that conflicts can be resolved.

The cleanest water may be just what we want for a drinking water supply or swimming area, but that water will not support the most productive fishery.  A lake with ample facilities for launching big powerboats may not be the best for a peaceful circuit by canoe or for observing wildlife. If the lake is large enough, some segregation of uses can be achieved, and in some smaller lakes temporal separation has been applied, as with early hour restrictions on motors. But the fundamental split between lower nutrients for clearer water and higher nutrients for more fish production is tough to overcome in a single lake. Some reservoirs with the classic elongate and dendritic pattern can achieve some semblance of a desirable range of nutrient concentrations for a range of uses, but stability is hard to maintain.

The best fishing experience does not have to be a simple matter of the number or size of fish caught; an aesthetic place to fish can be an important contributor to enjoyment. Drinking water is treated to meet strict standards in most cases, so the effects of elevated nutrients can be counteracted to some degree. But when conditions shift one way or the other, which goal has primacy will have considerable influence on the actions to be taken. Not all lake management goals are compatible, and this needs to be recognized in planning efforts.