With Earth Day taking place this Saturday, April 22, it’s a good time to take a look at an often overlooked but crucial aspect of environmental preservation: Supporting local lakes, stormwater ponds, and wetlands. These waterbodies serve as vital habitats for plants and wildlife, provide essential stormwater management, and are a recreational resource for boating, swimming, fishing, and other outdoor water activities.
Improper management or neglect of these systems can lead to water quality imbalances that promote Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). Cyanobacteria (often referred to as blue-green algae or toxic algae) are the primary culprits of HABs. Cyanobacteria are capable of producing toxins that may cause respiratory irritations, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Toxins can be deadly to fish, dogs, and other animals. Some evidence also suggests that toxin exposure may increase the risk of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s later in life.
In recent years, private research and greater public awareness around the subject of HABs have brought nationwide attention to dangerous cyanobacteria blooms plaguing some of the largest lakes in the country. This toxin can be found at virtually any time of year in almost any waterbody, even those as small as a stormwater pond or ditch.
“HABs often develop in waterbodies with elevated nutrient levels, which can occur as a result of pollution, urban development and natural habitat loss,” says Shannon Junior, Business Development Consultant at SOLitude Lake Management. “Aquatic resources should be proactively monitored and managed using the following strategies to help limit nutrient loading and the development of HABs altogether.”
Junior recommends adding the following practices to routine maintenance in order to better protect people, help preserve the environment, and make a lasting positive impact on local waters:
● Regularly bag, mulch, or compost leaves, lawn clippings, and organic waste to prevent them from releasing excess nutrients like phosphorus into nearby lakes and ponds.
● Create landscaping swales (natural filtering systems) around storm drains and impervious surfaces to help intercept nutrients and pollutants in stormwater runoff. Native flowering vegetation, pebble and river rocks serve as excellent filtration media when lined along walkways, driveways, and stormwater facilities.
● Improve lawn care and gardening practices by planting native vegetation around the perimeter of lakes and ponds. When allowed to grow into a natural buffer, these beneficial plants can also help decrease erosion and filter pollutants from stormwater runoff.
● Properly dispose of pet waste and deter geese from entering waterbodies. An adult Canada goose can produce up to two pounds of droppings each day, which may significantly increase nutrient levels in a short period of time.
● Avoid using nutrient-rich lawn and garden fertilizers, or switch to phosphorus-free products. Different types of fertilizer serve different purposes, so be sure to follow the directions on the label for safe and proper application.
● Opt for environmentally-friendly detergents and cleaners when washing vehicles and pressure-washing houses. Look for soaps that are formulated to be biodegradable.
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● Partner with aquatic experts for ongoing monitoring and management of water resources. Professionals have access to a wide range of tools, technologies and water quality testing equipment to keep lakes and ponds healthy.