Shoreland Protection

Lake Iroquois

Maintaining healthy shorelands is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy lake. Just about everything people do on the land can affect the water quality of our lakes, steams, and rivers. Runoff from lawns, and impervious surfaces, such as driveways, roofs, and roads can carry nutrients and sediment into the lake. Faulty septic systems, excessive use of fertilizer, mowing lawns all the way to the water line, removing native vegetation and trees can all contribute to more runoff coming into the lake. Higher nutrient levels, especially of phosphorus, can feed cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) creating the potential for toxic blooms. High nutrient levels can also encourage excessive aquatic plant growth, especially of invasives such as Eurasian Watermilfoil. Using Best Management Practices (BMPs) around the lake, such as creating riparian buffers planted with native species at the shoreline, reducing impervious surfaces, planting rain gardens, and maintaining septic systems can all contribute to a healthier lake.

The Vermont Shoreland Protection Act (10 V.S.A. 49A) establishes regulations for guiding shoreland development. It applies to activities within 250 feet of the mean water level of all Vermont lakes greater than 10 acres. The Act is intended to prevent water quality degradation in lakes, preserve the habitat and natural stability of shorelines, and maintain the economic benefits of lakes and their shorelands.

What is a Buffer?

Vegetative shoreland buffers, located along lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and ponds are the single most effective protection for water quality, lake ecosystems, and essential wildlife habitat. These strips of vegetation, which include ground covers, herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees, as well as the organic matter that accumulates on the ground, serve as transitional areas where land and water meet to create unique and highly productive ecosystems. The canopy created by trees, shrubs and herbaceous vegetation moderates the impact of heavy rains, shades the shoreline to reduce water temperature, and produces organic matter and woody debris essential to maintaining healthy shallow-water ecosystems. Root systems also give structure to the soil, hold soil in place, direct rainfall down into the soil instead of over the soil, and can extract nutrients and filter contaminates from the soil. The abundance of water and the diversity of plant communities in vegetated buffers help support a variety of aquatic and terrestrial life. They also provide valuable social, economic and environmental benefits.

Shoreland Protection Act

Effective July 1, 2014, the Vermont Legislature passed the Shoreland Protection Act (Chapter 49A of Title 10, §1441 et seq.), which regulates shoreland development activities within 250 feet of a lake’s mean water level for all lakes greater than 10 acres in size (PDF).

The Act intends to prevent water quality degradation in lakes, preserve the habitat and natural stability of shorelines, and maintain the economic benefits of lakes and their shorelands. The Act seeks to balance good shoreland management and development using Shoreland Permitting Management Practices to preserve and further the economic benefits and values of lakes and their adjacent shorelands.

Lake shoreland protection intent is to allow reasonable development along the shorelands of lakes and ponds while protecting aquatic habitat and water quality and maintaining the natural stability of shorelines. Land located on the non-lake side of a municipal or state road but within 250 feet of the mean water level does not have to conform to the Shoreland Protection Act. However, land on the non-lake side of a private road must comply with the Shoreland Protection Act.

Any new development, redevelopment, or clearing within 250 feet from the mean water level may require a Shoreland Permit or Shoreland Registration. Certain projects can be approved through a simplified permitting process called Shoreland Registration. Landowners proposing to carry out a project eligible for Registration should submit a Registration form to Shoreland Permitting. Any new cleared areas or impervious surfaces that are not exempt or do not qualify under Registration require a Shoreland Permit.

  • Cleared areas within the protected shoreland include where the vegetative cover has been permanently removed or altered.
  • Vegetative cover includes the tree canopy and understory consisting of shrubs, groundcover, and the duff layer (leaf litter plus small fragments of plants and organic debris). Does not mean grass lawns, noxious weeds, or nuisance plants.
  • Impervious surfaces include human-made surfaces, including paved and unpaved roads, parking areas, roofs, driveways, and walkways, from which precipitation runs off rather than infiltrates.

Parcels created after the effective date of July 1, 2014, must meet the shoreland protection standards. Landowners are urged to ensure new subdivisions of land create parcels large enough to ensure the standards of the Act can be met.

Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation advises application forms be submitted at least 45 days before the proposed beginning date of the project. If you are unsure as to whether your project requires a Shoreland Permit, Shoreland Registration, or is an exempt activity, review the helpful shoreland project worksheet.

For more information on the shoreland standards, The Vermont Shoreland Protection Act: A Handbook for Shoreland Development helps explain the Shoreland Protection Act and the permit or registration process.

The Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds created a helpful shoreland management booklet with design templates and easy-to-use planting plans: A Guide to Healthy Lakes Using Lake Shore Landscaping.

Helpful Links:

The Vermont Shoreland Protection Act Summary

Shoreland Best Management Practices single page pdf

Shoreland Vegetation Management Standards

Shoreland Stabilization Techniques

Lake and Shoreland Regional Permit Analysts

Lake Encroachment Application Resources

Lake Shores and Lake Wise

Shoreline Best Management Practices

Conserving Lakeshores pdf