Property owner following shoreline management best practices to protect Lake Leelanau, photo by Mark Bugnaski Photography.

Lake Leelanau Shoreline Best Management Practices

If you live on or love Lake Leelanau, you know how important it is to keep our waters clean and beautiful. In this week’s blog, Lake Leelanau Lake Association (LLLA) Stewardship Committee Member Stuart Winston shares essential tips and best management practices that you can do from the shoreline to protect the water quality of Lake Leelanau.

Factors Related to Shoreline Best Management Practices

To start with the basics of shoreline best management practices (BMPs), let’s go over a few important definitions:

  • Buffer zone: the first 35 or so feet of a waterfront property that is adjacent to the shoreline.
  • Shoreline zone: the transition between the buffer zone and the lake.
  • Upland zone: the section of a waterfront property between the buffer zone and at least the next 100 feet of the property. This zone often includes the built structures.
  • Impervious surfaces: paved areas, buildings, and heavily compacted areas (including non-paved driveways or parking places) from which precipitation runs off rather than filters through.
  • Stormwater runoff: water from rain or melting snow that doesn’t soak into the ground and, therefore, has the potential to drain into the lake.

It is crucial to consider these zones and how water runs through them, as the water running into the lake may carry harmful pollutants. Common pollutants include:

  • Pesticides or herbicides
  • Fertilizers from gardens or agriculture
  • Antifreeze, grease, oil, and heavy metals from cars
  • Bacteria from pet wastes and poorly maintained septic systems
  • Sediment

When performing any kind of lakeshore development—including clearing, building, and landscaping—there are many ways in which it can be completed to minimize the impact on the lake. These practices can be done while still meeting the recreational and aesthetic needs of one’s property.

Easy-to-follow BMPs

According to the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership (MNSP) constituents, the following are easy-to-follow BMPs for each shoreline zone.

Buffer zones should:

  1. Be comprised of more than 75% native plants, trees, and other vegetation;
  2. Have less than 25% of the zone devoted to lake access and docks;
  3. Contain no impervious surfaces;
  4. Not use any fertilizer in this zone; and
  5. Be clean of any pet waste.

Shoreline zones should:

  1. Be vegetated and sloped gradually;
  2. Not construct any seawalls; if already present, they should be removed to restore the shoreline; and 
  3. Not create any artificial beach.

Upland zones should:

  1. Contain more than 75% vegetation;
  2. Keep impervious surfaces to the minimum required (set by your local zoning ordinance);
  3. Consider ways to capture stormwater;
  4. Assure proper function and practice recommended maintenance procedures if a septic system or holding tank is present;
  5. Minimize or eliminate fertilization. If fertilizing, guide its composition with soil testing and avoid phosphorous-containing products; and
  6. Minimize pesticides and herbicides and only use spot treatment, if necessary.
Zone-by-zone BMPs. Source: Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership.

Many things can be done to follow BMPs during construction or on an existing property. Using stepping stones or changing paving material to semi-permeable products can make impermeable surfaces less impervious. You can reduce stormwater runoff by changing a contour, adding drip-line trenches, or adding a rain garden. Maintaining native vegetation near the shoreline can help with this.

More tips to protect the shoreline. Source: Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership

The LLLA is here to help!

Improving your property using shoreline BMPs can be gradual and sometimes complex — we are here to help! The LLLA’s Shoreline Ambassadors have undergone the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership’s Shoreline Stewards Ambassador Training Program. And they can come to your property and advise on how to follow BMPs. To schedule a consultation, contact Nancy Popa at [email protected].

 If you are interested in learning more about shoreline BMPs, check out these additional resources: 

The MNSP Shoreline Stewards Program

  • The MNSP has a survey tool that you can use to assess your lakefront property. Not only does it give you a chance to “rate” your property, but each question is accompanied by a reiteration of the principles we’ve discussed above. Access this tool here.
  • MNSP’s Guidebook for Property Owners offers a great deal of additional information. The guidebook is available for purchase here.

The MNSP includes the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, several MSU Departments, other non-profit organizations, and a few vendors. For a complete list, please visit MSNP's website.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Shoreline Protection page.

Native plants for your shoreline 

Feature image courtesy of Mark Bugnaski Photography.

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