Lake Stewardship

Shoreland buffer, Lake Julia

Reducing Salt from Entering Lakes

When clearing winter walks:

  • Shovel early and often. The more snow and ice you remove, the less salt you’ll need.
  • Sprinkle sparsely. Leave 3 inches between salt grains.
  • Go lean. A coffee mug is adequate for a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares.
  • Use a tool. A handheld spreader can apply salt consistently.
  • Wait for warmer weather. When ground temperatures are below 15 degrees, it’s too cold for ordinary sodium chloride to work.
  • Use the right de-icer. Calcium chloride works at much lower temperatures than sodium chloride.
  • Sweep up extra salt. If it is visible on dry pavement, it is not doing anything and will be washed into water bodies.

Water softeners

  • When considering, choosing, or using a water softener, you might not need one. Find out the hardness of your water by consulting a professional, or using a hardness testing kit. If water is at an acceptable level, think twice about softening. The chloride standard for drinking water is 250 mg/l.
  • Don’t over-soften. Check your unit’s settings. It may have been set at an unnecessarily high level at the factory.
  • Soften only the water that needs it. Not to outside spigots or cold drinking water taps.
  • Monitor your softener. If it uses more than one bag of salt per month, work with a water quality professional to optimize efficiency.
  • Look into lower-salt methods. Pre-filters can be used to remove iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide without help from water softeners.
  • Upgrade your softener. Look for demand-initiated versions that are more salt efficient, operate based on how much water you use, and can reduce salt use by up to 60 percent.
  • Lengthen the cycle. If you have a timer-based system, see if you can extend the time between cycles.

Adding sand to your beach may not be good for water quality

Sand can have a negative impact on the water quality and overall health of the lake.

Some of these effects are algae blooms, decrease in lake depth, fish habitat loss and decline in fish population.

While sand is not the only cause of these problems, it is the easiest one to control – simply don’t put more of it into the lake.

Here are some of the ways that beach sand harms the lake:

Sand does not stay put. Every footstep on the beach pushes it downhill towards the water and it drifts with the current and wind.

Sand leaves the beaches and flows with the water toward the middle. Exposed sand blows from one spot to another, moves with rain and snow melt winds up in unintended places.

Sand that doesn’t drift away eventually works its way into the lake bottom, but even though we may not see it, it’s still in the lake.

The sand we add contributes to silting-in, making the lake shallower. People react by adding more and more sand which is not allowed in Minnesota.

Shallow water is warmer, supports algae growth and is lower in oxygen, conditions that create fish kills.

Silting is a geologic process that happens naturally over hundreds of years, adding beach sand to the natural sediment load hastens this aging process of turning lake into bog or swamp.

Water clarity
Beach sand is different from native lake soil. Sand drifts easily in water, it clouds it, preventing UV light from disinfecting bacteria in the lake — a natural process that is necessary for maintaining good water quality. As rainwater and snowmelt run over the beach they pick up this silt, it goes into suspension in the lake, and can be transported significant distances. The smallest/lightest particles are the last to settle, and thus the first to be stirred up by aquatic animals, humans or even wind fetch induced currents or the annual temperature induced turnover. Reduced clarity correlates to reduced visibility, and a reduction in disinfection of pathogens by ultraviolet light and in studied cases, increases in presence of microbial pathogens. Decline in lake water clarity caused a noticeable decrease in the value of surrounding homes.

Biological Impact
Deposited sand has major biological impacts on the lake ecology. Sand deposited and drifted along the shore and lake bottom can smother bottom-dwelling algae and invertebrates, reduce the amount of aquatic and shoreline habitat for fish and crayfish, destroy spawning and nesting sites for reptiles and amphibians, and disrupt the food chain. Fine sand particles suspended in clouded water may clog the gills of our lake fish that are not adapted to a sandy environment. This threatens the fish population.

Chemical Impact
Beach sand may contain a number of contaminants that will wash into the lake water changing its natural chemistry. If the sand contains phosphorus, a nutrient that supports plant growth and a major contributor to the decline of lake quality, it washes into the lake essentially fertilizing it. One pound of phosphorus can produce tens of thousands of pounds of algae! As the lake becomes shallower from erosion and silting, there is less volume of water in which these toxins and other contaminants can be diluted. Sand is not the only or largest source of contamination in the lake (bigger culprits are runoff from our septic systems, roads and lawns), but it contributes.

There are alternatives to beach sand that cause less damage to the lake ecosystem and water quality.

Check with the county for permits and advice on the best management practices.