Turning back the clock on shoreline health
When Moore Lake Property Owners Association president Ed Russo started cottaging 1999, he didn’t think anything was wrong with a bright green lawn stretching down to the water’s edge. It was a common sight.
“I certainly didn’t have an understanding of why grass is not good,” Russo says.
Sixteen years later, things have changed. More is known about the effects of pollutants on water systems and methods of preventing degradation of our lakes.
This summer, the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations secured funding to restore shorelines on 10 lakefront properties in Haliburton County – two of which were on Russo’s lake.å
With money from Fisheries and Oceans Canada through the Canadian Wildlife Federation, CHA co-ordinated more shoreline revitalizations through the recreational fisheries program than any other region in the country.
On Moore Lake, it started with a visit from CHA chairman Paul MacInnes, who spoke to the membership at their annual general meeting.
“We had instant buy-in from all the members,” says Russo. “They thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.”
MacInnes told the group about the dangers of pollutants to the health of the lake – particularly, the dangers of phosphorus, which can leach into the water from the septic system through the ground. Grass won’t do much to stop this process, since its roots stretch only a few inches below the surface. It also does little to stop erosion of shorelines and provides no habitat for animals or shade for fish the way shrubs and trees do.
“The deeper the roots you can have the more that phosphorous gets intercepted before it actually gets into our lake and phosphorous is the No. 1 concern we have because it’s the volume control for algae and more and more areas are having these blue-green algae outbreaks,” MacInnes says.
“Grass has a root system that’s somewhere between three and five inches deep. Some of these native species that we’re planting, their roots go between 15 and 25 feet deep.”
Through Fisheries and Oceans funding, Watersheds Canada assisted the 10 landowners with creating a plan and buying the plants.
One of this year’s recipients was Rob Wittmann, who owns property on Moore Lake.
Wittmann was thrilled with the process, which he said was collaborative, painless and easy.
“My property was chosen [because] it’s pretty flat, open and more or less grass at the front,” he says. Over the years, he had heard more about the importance of a natural shorelines and was interested in improving the appearance of his lot and bettering the local environment.
“I didn’t want to be part of that minority that had a grass shoreline. That’s kind of what got it going,” he says.
Watersheds Canada asked Wittmann to give them input about the sightlines to the lake he wanted to maintain, tell them about how he uses the property and preferences for appearance. From there, they generated a plan including more than 100 native plants including silky dogwood, pussy willow, swamp rose and meadowsweet.
“We had a pretty blank template with respect to what could be done,” he says. “We just said try to take it as far as you can in the context of naturalizing the shoreline.”
On Sept. 25, the plants were delivered and along with about eight or nine people who volunteered to help with the planting, the project was complete in less than two hours.
“We posted a sign on a couple of trees – one facing the lake and one inland – that speaks to the initiative,” he says. That way people boating by can check out the work being done and visualize how that might apply to their own properties.
Similar projects were done on Kashagawigamog, Boshkung, Haliburton Lake, Kawagama and Otter Lake as well as Minden’s Rotary Park, which is a larger public demonstration site requiring more funding than Fisheries and Oceans provided.
MacInnes says he has been impressed with the uptake amongst property owners and that as news of the positive experiences spreads through the community, the number of people willing to renaturalize their shorelines expands.
He has 72 property owners from across the county wanting to participate over the next three years. The project is now such an undertaking that Canadian Wildlife Federation suggested CHA approach Fisheries and Oceans directly for funding.
“The word spread that this was a really good experience,” MacInnes explains. “And I’m hoping we’re getting the message out that renaturalizing our shorelines is absolutely key to the long-term health of the lake.”