2012 Vermont Lake Shorelands Status

Monday, October 29, 2012

Susan Warren from the Lakes and Ponds Section of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is looking for input from people interested in the health of Vermont lakes and ponds in reference to ACT 138. Please review the following information about the current status of lakeshores in Vermont.

For further information or to provide input, contact the Lakes and Ponds Section Manager, Susan Warren: susan.warren@state.vt.us or 802-490-6134

Vermont Lake Health is Threatened
Many Vermonters are becoming increasingly concerned about the manner in which our lakeshores are being developed. Enhancements and/or additions to lakeshore programs are needed to ensure lake health and people’s use and enjoyment of lakes continue into the future. The 2012 Vermont Legislature required the Agency of Natural Resources to report on lakeshore management and protection in Vermont, specifically including whether the state should enact statewide shoreland regulations. During the summer and fall of 2012, VTANR will conduct this study and look at:-How we might improve existing lakeshore management and protection programs; -How statewide regulations for lakeshore protection could be structured and administered;

  • The benefits and drawbacks of different regulatory and non-regulatory approaches, based on experience in Vermont and in other states; and
  • Strategies for building support for improved lakeshore protection.

Vermont’s Lakeshore Conditions

Vermont lakes are threatened by excessive shoreland clearing and lawns to the water’s edge. When a lake’s natural vegetation (woodlands) is removed and replaced by lawns and impervious surfaces, aquatic habitat degrades, shores erode, and the lake is more vulnerable to water quality problems such as blue-green algae blooms. The science is clear that naturally vegetated shores protect lakes’ water quality, ecology, and bank stability; and healthy lakes benefit people’s use and enjoyment of the lakes, property values, as well as our vital tourism economy. However, increasingly, new development or redevelopment on Vermont lakeshores involves nearly complete removal of the native vegetation. There are a few tools currently available to protect Vermont lakeshores, including education, outreach and technical assistance, municipal zoning (only about 20% of towns have standards that protect lakes), and Act 250 (only a minor amount of shoreland development is covered). Additionally, some shoreland is protected through land conservation projects such as those through a land trust.

According to a US EPA study of lake conditions across the country, Vermont’s lakes rank worse than both the northeast region and the national average in terms of percent of shoreland that is either in fair or poor condition (as measured by the extent of clearing and lawns near the shoreline). VTANR plans to use this study to clearly lay out the shoreland and lake protection choices before Vermonters.

Since Vermont science clearly indicates degraded lake conditions statewide, our discussion needs to focus on how we can strengthen shoreland protection for all of Vermont’s lakes. -Perry Thomas, Past-president, Federation of VT Lakes and Ponds

2012 Status of Vermont Lakeshores

Thirty years of lake monitoring and assessment, including a new study linking cleared shorelands with degraded lake habitat, leave little doubt that healthy lakeshores are critical for healthy lakes. Healthy lakes are essential to our state’s long-term prosperity, both in terms of the economy and environmental sustainability.

Did you know? Only a small percentage of shoreland development is reviewed by either a state program or a municipality to ensure lake-friendly development is practiced.

Shoreland development has increased in intensity such that most property is completely cleared of native vegetation prior to development or redevelopment. Vermont lakeshores are becoming increasingly “suburbanized.”

Lakeshore disturbance (removal of natural vegetation) is the most serious stressor on Vermont lakes, threatening water quality, in-lake habitat and shoreline stability. Of the 203 Vermont lakes assessed for shoreland condition, 24% are in either “fair” condition or “reduced” condition, significantly more than those affected by phosphorus pollution and invasive species combined. There is a strong link between lake water quality and surrounding property values.

The majority of lakeshore erosion that occurred during the Lake Champlain spring floods of 2011 occurred where trees and shrubs had been removed and replaced with grass or lawn.

It is possible to develop a lakeshore property and enjoy the lake in a lake-friendly way!

Lake-friendly shoreland development  At this shoreland home, the shore has been left in native trees and shrubs, and the clearing for a lawn is set further back from the lake.

This property owner can enjoy the lake and know the lake and shallow water habitat are protected by:

  • Providing bank stability
  • Shading the water with overhanging branches
  • Avoiding direct runoff from developed areas into the lake
  • Providing fallen trees, leaves and other important shallow water habitat features

Lake-shore development that threatens long-term lake health
People  choose to clear their shoreland property often to enjoy a view of the  lake, however this style of development puts the lake and property at  risk by exposing it to:-Bank erosion Increased sediment and phosphorus pollution of the lake

  • Reduced fish and wildlife habitat
  • Increased nuisance plant and algae growth
  • Direct runoff from lawn and driveway into the lake