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Healthy Shorelines for Healthy Lakes


People working on shoreline rehabilitation

Shoreline erosion is a common and natural process that many waterfront properties encounter. There are various causes for shoreline erosion that all have the same outcome: a loss of valuable waterfront property that can result in unsafe shorelines and deteriorating natural shoreline environments. 

The process of erosion from ice, wind or water is natural but normally occurs at a very slow rate, much slower than we would notice. Altering the natural features on your property can accelerate this process and create unsafe conditions.

By taking preventative measures you can help control erosion on your property, helping create and maintain a strong and healthy shoreline.

How to Prevent Erosion

There are a number of steps you can take to protect your property and prevent erosion:

•    Protect the Natural Shoreline
The best insurance policy against erosion is to retain the natural characteristics of the shoreline. This means keeping lots of vegetation, maintaining a good buffer strip (no mowing up to the water’s edge) and leaving in place all of the stones, boulders, snags and dead branches found along the shoreline. These materials absorb the energy from erosive forces like waves and keep the shoreline “glued” together.

Water barrel

•    Reduce Runoff
Wherever possible plant and retain native vegetation to keep large amounts of runoff from entering the lake. In addition, encourage rainwater to infiltrate the soil rather than travelling over it, where it can wash the soil away. To encourage infiltration, minimize the amount of paved or hard surfaces on your property (i.e., driveways, decks, patios). Runoff from the driveway can be directed into a settling area, and runoff from the roof should go into a rain barrel or soaking area. This will help maintain the natural, gradual water renewal process rather than allowing large volumes of water to enter the river or lake at one time.

•    Minimize the Wake from Boats (and Other Motorized Watercraft)
Boat wakes not only erode the shoreline, but they can also disturb aquatic ecosystems, swamp the nests of loons and other waterfowl, damage docks and boats, upset canoes and small boats and endanger swimmers. The best way to reduce the effects of boat wash and wake on shorelines is to simply slow down. In Ontario, by law, boats must slow down to 10 kilometres per hour within 30 metres of the shore. If the boat doesn’t have a speedometer, remember that at this speed there will be little or no wake.

•    Take Precautions during Construction
If you are starting a new building project on your property, plan to control erosion and keep the disturbed area as small as possible. Ask your contractor to be aware of potential erosion and provide them with a copy of the protection plans. We strongly recommend the use of erosion control equipment such as filter cloths, hay bales and silt fences. Fill piles should be covered with tarps to prevent soil from being carried away by runoff. If possible, construction should be avoided during wet seasons, since softer soil is more prone to damage by heavy equipment.

•    Limit Impacts of Foot Traffic
Foot traffic can trample vegetation – especially on steep slopes – causing soil to loosen and fall from the shore.  Depending on the degree of the problem, you can control access to that portion of the shoreline using fences, hedges, brush, terraces, boardwalks or stairs.

•    Contour and Cover Pathways
Pathways that extend from a building to the water’s edge tend to take the shortest route to the water, which is often a direct downward route. This encourages erosion, since gravity can pull soils and runoff straight down the path toward the water. A better option is to position (or, if necessary, re-route) pathways to follow the contours of the slope in an S curve pattern. Any exposed soil on pathways and heavy traffic areas should be covered up with wood chips, straw or pine needles to prevent the soil from being blown away or washed away by rain.

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