By – Susan Czerepak
Photos – Tom Wagner
Attendees: Echo Lake – Susan Czerepak, Steve Garrott, Lynn and Bill Mann, Tom Wagner / Seymour Lake – Chris Blais
At 9:00 AM on Friday Aug 14 — a warm, glorious, Northeast Kingdom morning — we met at the Seymour Lake Fish and Wildlife Access Area for the workshop led by Amy Picotte, Lakeshore Manager of the Watershed Management Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The plan was to visit three properties and see the results of landscaping work that was done through the Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds (FOVLAP) grant programs to control run-off, prevent erosion, and improve wildlife habitat. As it turned out, Chris Blais, attending the workshop, invited us to her property to see all the work that had been done there as well.
Before heading out on our visit to the waterfront properties, we first looked at the shoreline of the Access itself. Last summer, the DEC had planted maple trees and shrubs and native plants along the shore. All but one of the maple trees had taken, but sadly all the shrubs and plants had been mowed down, right to the water’s edge. Amy explained that different crews from the Vermont Department of Corrections mow these access areas for the state, and apparently the crew working on this site was not aware of new policies aimed at preserving our waterfronts by fostering the growth natural vegetation. She’ll follow up on this to ensure that a natural buffer can be established and maintained along the shore.
We talked about the apparently unique Vermont propensity for mowing vast, expansive swaths of pristine, closely-cropped lawns. Unfortunately, these lawns are harmful to our waters as they do not sufficiently hold, absorb, and filter water through the soil. You don’t see this lawn practice in New Hampshire or Maine. In fact, according to recent lake science from the National Lake Assessment study, Vermont has the dubious distinction of being ranked lowest in the Northeast ecoregion and in the nation for degraded shallow water habitat. Vermont’s degraded conditions for aquatic habitat is directly related to harmful impacts from lakeshore development.
Seymour Lake has a surface area of 1732 acres and drains a watershed area of 20 square miles. Echo Lake has a surface area of 530 acres and drains a watershed area of 24 square miles. In a one inch rainstorm, just one thousand square feet of surface area area (about the area of a two story 2000 square foot home – not including decks or driveway) receives 623 gallons of precipitation that if not absorbed by the earth will result in stormwater runoff. The natural vegetation in the watershed area absorbs and filters rainwater, but man-made hard surfaces known as impervious surfaces, such as roof tops, decks and driveways do not. As more development occurs around lakes – multiple tiers at higher and higher elevations – the buildings, roadways, and driveways result in greater areas of impervious soil and fewer trees, shrubs, and plants to filter the water, which results in more stormwater runoff and erosion, sending sediment and nutrients into our lakes.
The purpose of the Storm-Ready Workshop was to show us real life examples of shoreland Best Management Practices (BMPs), both structural and vegetative methods to manage stormwater runoff and protect the lake. Many shoreland BMPs use Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) systems and practices that restore and maintain natural hydrologic processes, such as a rain garden, a swale, or a vegetated berm. GSI is decentralized by design and either prevents runoff from occurring or treats it as close to the source as possible. (See http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/stormwater/docs/sw_gi_2.0_green_stormwater_infrastructure.pdf) All vegetated shoreland BMPs should use native plants as they are the species that feed our song birds and wildlife, are adapted to our climate, and the most disease resistant, plus aesthetically beautiful all year long. Structural shoreland BMPs include some hardscaping techniques such as dry wells, infiltration ditches, rock aprons, or water bars, though these stormwater management methods may incorporate some vegetation as well.
The Torpey property was the first we visited. Here we saw water bars and open-topped culverts, installed to intercept water and divert it off to the side into rock aprons and then to vegetated depressions allowing for natural infiltration. Amy explained that it’s not just a matter of quantity of water, it’s the velocity of water that is the bigger problem. Water bars and culverts slow the velocity.
There were seven water bars – narrow shallow channels – cut diagonally across the driveway at a 30º angle. There were two open-topped culverts set at a 45º angle. Ideally, the culverts should have been set at a 30º angle to better slow the flow of the water. The open-topped culverts were made with lengths of 2 x 6 pressure treated boards for the sides nailed to a 2 x 8 for the bottom, making a narrow sluice about 3½ inches wide
The key to using water bars and culverts is maintenance. Over time, water bars and culverts do fill with sediment and have to be cleaned out. See http://www.echolakeassociation.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/lp_lpseries5.pdf
The next site was the MacDonalds. Here we saw a fine example of infiltration steps leading down the gentle slope beside the house, absorbing runoff along the way that otherwise would have been channeled into the lake.
The infiltration steps were built with pressure treated timbers and filled with crushed stone. A large flat stone was set in the center of each step to provide very solid and even footing. For information on building infiltration steps, see http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/lakes/docs/LP_BMPInfiltrationSteps.pdf#zoom=100
We were given the opportunity to explore the grounds and admire all the beautiful, native plantings – ferns along a brook, red Bee Balm, Joe-Pye weed, columbine, and square-stemmed mint among other perennials.
Amy emphasized the importance native shrubs and perennials. These plants host the appropriate native insects for our native bird population. Birds consume up to a third of their body weight per day, and their existence depends on this natural insect population.
The third scheduled stop was at the Potter property. A banking of about 40º extended down to a low retaining wall at the shore. Tiers of 30 or more native flowering shrubs had been planted to hold the banking and eventually allow for duff to be established. The shrubs had been planted from lowest-growing at the top to highest-growing at the bottom to ensure unobstructed views of the lake while providing shore stability with beautiful greenery and color throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Shrubs included Lowbush blueberry, Red Osier Dogwood, and several others. For excellent information suitable native plants, see the VT Lakescaping Booklet, http://www.echolakeassociation.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/VTLakescapingBooklet.6.3.pdf .
As we were winding up our visit at the Potters, to everyone’s great delight, long-time Seymour resident, Ruby, – an athletic, bronzed, robust, vibrant, 93-year old force-of-nature – kayaked to the shore and clambered up the banking to invite us to come see the blueberry bushes she had planted. Unfortunately, time was running short, we still had one more property to visit, and we had to decline. But what an inspiration!!
Next, it was on to the surprise visit to the Blais property. Here, we were told, had been an uninterrupted sloping lawn to the shore. Now, a complete transformation meets the eye. A well defined, minimally sized, crushed stone driveway by the cottage at the top of the slope allows for infiltration. A raised grass and moss covered berm parallel to the driveway prevents runoff from flowing down to the shore. And mostly native gardens are everywhere, all helping to slow and absorb stormwater runoff and not send it flowing straight to the lake.
A new graceful, curved chain of infiltration steps had been installed. However, the surface of the tread was uneven and because the tread was triangular- narrower on the inside of the curve and broader on the outside – walkers would sometimes misjudge the step at night and turn an ankle. A possible solution is to put well spaced planking over the stair treads, giving better footing but still allowing water to infiltrate.
To the right of the stairs and a few feet below the berm there was a spectacular island of wildflowers blooming over the leach field, In general, shallow-rooted herbaceous plants that are not excessively water-loving are best choices for leach field cover. Plant roots help remove excess moisture and nutrients thereby making the purification of the remaining effluent more efficient. Be aware, however, deep roots that clog or disrupt the pipes can seriously damage the drainage field.
A grass pathway wound around both sides of the leach field to another tier of plantings and a woodsy path to a glacial stone on one side and to a split rail fence and more native flowers at the shore, all designed to absorb and slow the flow of rainwater. The meandering grass pathway helped divert runoff and provided visual interest to the site. There were also colorful rain gardens under the eaves of the cottage to catch that runoff.
As the workshop and tour came to an end, we reflected on what we had seen and learned and what we could do on our own properties to advance the effort to offset the negative effects of shoreland development and ensure that our lake waters are protected. Let’s ask ourselves how much of our lawn do we actually use? How much time and money do we spend mowing? If our property is in one of the upper tiers of development, what can we do to minimize the amount of runoff to our neighbors situated downhill?
We can print a photo of our lawns and circle the areas we actually use for seating, boat and swimming access, lawn games, and so forth. Maybe the remaining space can be utilized for islands of vegetation – rain and meadow gardens, vegetative swales, or blueberry patches. You may be pleasantly surprised as the beauty of your own meandering paths emerges!
Our thanks to the Torpeys, MacDonalds, Potters, and Blaises for inviting us to their respective properties.
Thanks to Peggy Barter for arranging and coordinating with the property owners.
And thanks to Amy Picotte for such an informative, instructive, and inspiring workshop!!
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If you would like to learn about or enroll in the FOVLAP Landscaping Project, please contact Susan Czerepak at firstname.lastname@example.org, Amy Picotte of the Agency of Natural Resources at Amy.Picotte@vermont.gov. or Judy Davis from FOVLAP at email@example.com. For more information, see http://www.echolakeassociation.net/water-quality/buffers-for-blue-lakes/
If you are interested in partnering with NorthWoods and the Agency of Natural Resources in the Lakeshore Buffering program to create a shoreline buffer and want to learn about or enroll in this program, please contact Meghann Carter at 802-723-6551 x113 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, see http://www.echolakeassociation.net/water-quality/lakeshore-buffering-program
Applications should be made in the summer or fall for the following year.