Protecting Lake Leelanau's water quality by combating personal pollutants.

Protecting Lake Leelanau’s Water Quality: A Guide to Combating Pollutants

Protecting Lake Leelanau’s water quality is a responsibility that belongs to us all. This week’s blog, written by LLLA Stewardship Committee Member Stuart Winston, focuses on common pollutants that can enter our watershed from individual use. We invite you to dive into this topic to discover how doing your part can help keep Lake Leelanau beautiful.

The following tackles a “potpourri” of guidance on various pollution-related topics. Please note that this is a brief overview—we hope it stimulates thought and interest in researching them further.

Lake Leelanau Pollutants


When homeowners seek to beautify their landscape, problems with weeds can be challenging. There are a myriad of potential solutions, but some may pose risks to the watershed.

Suppose a grass lawn is the target of concern. In that case, whether you are considering using fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, several principles—other than “less is better”—apply. Please refer to our previous blog post, Lawn Fertilizers 101, for more information on smart fertilization techniques.

Combating Weeds Without Chemicals

For unwanted weeds, we recommend trying non-chemical means first—like good old-fashioned hand-pulling and liberal use of mulch. This technique allows grass to grow longer, which can suppress weed growth. If more suppression is needed, consider a vinegar-based solution.

Read the National Resource Defense Council's blog for tips on improving your lawn safely.

Effects of Chemical Herbicides 

Chemical herbicides, when they find their way to the lake, can kill natural aquatic plants. When these plants decompose, they can reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen, which can harm fish populations. Both herbicides and pesticides can directly affect aquatic animals’ nervous systems and their growth and development.

The ability of a chemical herbicide to get to water tables or bodies of water, a process called leeching, depends on their water solubility, chemical stability, and degree of adsorption to soil. The likelihood also depends on the application’s proximity to water. Hence, the general warning to apply them at least 100 feet away depends on the property’s run-off.

What the Experts Say 

Some experts also advise avoiding pre-emergent herbicide “weed-and-feed” products, as their concentrations are unnecessarily high and leeching is more likely. Instead, only using spot treatments when possible is recommended.

Discussion of specific agents is beyond the scope of today’s blog. In general, we suggest you read labels and follow instructions carefully. Please, remember that using chemicals for aquatic plants requires a permit from the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Copper Sulfate

Copper sulfate, an agent sometimes used as an algaecide, has previously been considered a possible treatment to kill the snails that are part of the life cycle of the cercariae that cause swimmer’s itch. Most lake biologists believe this is ineffective and highly toxic to aquatic plants and animals and, therefore, not recommended. To learn more about the State-of-Knowledge on swimmer’s itch, click here.

Waterfowl on the shores of Lake Leelanau, Michigan.
Waterfowl. Photo courtesy of Mark Bugnaski Photography.

Feeding Waterfowl and Other Wildlife

When it comes to advice regarding the feeding of ducks and geese, the DNR is clear—DON’T. The food we’re likely to consider giving them is what you might refer to as animal “junk food.” It can be harmful to the individual bird and can cause unwanted congregation of the waterfowl near its source.

The propriety of birdfeeders for perching wild birds is a more complicated story. Most authorities see this as a low risk of causing problems for bird ecosystems. So, keep your feeders clean and watch for state advisories regarding any uptick in avian illnesses—like the avian flu.

Disposing of Unwanted Household Items

Proper disposal of unwanted household items is crucial in protecting Lake Leelanau’s water quality from pollutants. The following offers guidance on responsibly disposing of hazardous and electronic waste and medications.

Hazardous and Electronic Waste Disposal

Leelanau County collects household hazardous waste (HHW) and electronic waste at specific sites four times a year. In 2023, there were collection events in May and June. Two more collection events remain on Monday, September 25, 2023, in Peshawbestown, and Saturday, October 14, 2023, at Elmwood Township Park.

These collection events are by appointment only. Please, visit Leelanau County's website to schedule an appointment for one of these hazardous/electronic waste collections. There you can also find a list of acceptable and unacceptable items and instructions on disposing of latex paint without taking it to a hazardous waste site.

Proper Medication Disposal

If you have unwanted or expired medications and non-prescription medications to discard, do not put them down the drain or in the garbage. Instead, please dispose of them at a scheduled HHW collection event or (anonymously) in the drop box located in the lobby of the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office.

The drop box is for pills only. For the disposal of liquid medications, sharps, needles, syringes, and inhalers, please schedule an appointment for an upcoming HHW collection event.

Protecting Lake Leelanau’s Water Quality

Join us in protecting Lake Leelanau's water quality by implementing these tips! Together, we can protect our beautiful lake from harmful pollutants through small conscious efforts.

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