Harming Our Lake-Chemicals and Fertilizers

Harming Our Lake-Chemicals and Fertilizers

We have all seen the small signs on a yard-“beware of chemical treatment, pets and children stay off”. In our cities and suburbs, we often do not give further thought to where these and other chemicals are going if they run off our yards. Around our lake, the answer is simple. When rains wash chemicals off our yards, they often end up in our lake, in the very areas our families are swimming and boating, in the water where we fish and recreate.

Keeping harmful chemical runoff from our lake is a large part of keeping our lake healthy and safe. Yet many of us continue to utilize downstate lawn care methods along our lakeshore, where it would be relatively easy to adopt much more lake friendly approaches.

Protecting our lake from harmful runoff involves focusing on three basic areas-minimizing runoff, eliminating pollutants in runoff and filtering runoff to the greatest extent possible.

Creative landscaping and elimination of impervious surfaces can accomplish minimizing runoff. Capturing and filtering runoff can be accomplished with greenbelts, wetlands and rain gardens. (See related article specifically addressing run-off?) Eliminating chemical runoff can easily be accomplished by adopting lake friendly approaches to lawn care.

So what can you do to help keep our lake free from harmful chemicals?

  1. Eliminate the use of phosphorus in fertilizers and in household cleaning products. Phosphorus encourages the growth of algae, cladaphora and other harmful aquatic plant growth. While now banned in most residential fertilizers, phosphorous is still used in applications (what does applications mean?) and may be used by contractors. Check the middle number on your fertilizer bag (it should be 0) and require any contractor to use only phosphorus free applications. Of course (not sure we can say this for sure), eliminating fertilizer altogether, or using all natural products is even better.
  2. Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals where possible, and always within the greenbelt areas along the shoreline-usually 50 feet. Consider natural approaches to weed and insect control.
  3. Maintain your septic system, and avoid disposing of chemicals, household waste and medicines in the septic system.
  4. Maintain automobiles and avoid washing or repairing autos where the oil, etc. may be washed into the watershed.
  5. Limit the use of watering on the lawn, and consider limiting the lawn size, replacing lawn with natural areas that do not require treatments or significant watering. Check your automatic sprinkling system-is it running while it is raining, etc. Limiting the water we put on or lawns will limit the runoff to the lake.
  6. Increase the height of your mower, and mulch clippings to avoid yard waste. Taller grass serves as a better filter for runoff.

Simple steps can go a long way toward avoiding the introduction of chemicals into our lake. Other important concerns are discussed elsewhere on our website, such as erosion control, greenbelts, natural shorelines, impermeable surface control. Remember- if we want to maintain our Lake Charlevoix watershed, let’s maintain “Lake Charlevoix friendly” yards. For more information, go to bephosphorussmart.msu.edu and www.turf.msu.edu.