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COLA: Buffers are a step in the right direction

There is a saying that "the older I get the smarter my parents look." I think at least some of us would agree that there is some truth to this saying. History can be a good teacher if we allow ourselves to learn from it. Many years ago when man b...

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There is a saying that "the older I get the smarter my parents look."

I think at least some of us would agree that there is some truth to this saying. History can be a good teacher if we allow ourselves to learn from it.

Many years ago when man brought development to the lake we had no history of what our actions might do. At first, we did not do a very good job of taking care of this very fragile part of our environment. As the years have gone by, we have learned about the things that have caused our lakes trouble by seeing the outcomes of our actions. For instance, we have learned that a poorly constructed and/or managed septic system can lead to water quality problems by allowing sewage to leach into the ground water and then ultimately into the lake water.

Thank goodness we have learned that by building better septic systems, putting them further from the water and by pumping our tanks regularly we can reduce their effect on our surface water resources.

There are many other things that we can all do to help keep our surface waters clean. They include things like reducing or eliminating fertilizer on our lawns at the lake and keeping herbicide use to a minimum by spot spraying weeds.

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Probably the single most helpful thing we can all do to help keep our surface waters clean is the addition of a native vegetative buffer along the lakeshore. Buffers help filter out and trap pollutants like fertilizers, herbicides and pet waste before they reach the water. In addition, the deep roots from native buffer plants help hold the soil at the shore in place so it does not erode into the lake. The upper parts of native buffer plants have their importance, too, as they provide for the many animals who make their homes near the water. It is estimated that approximately 90 percent of all animals spend all or part of their life cycle at the lakeshore. Native shoreline buffers provide shelter from the elements, provide a place to build a nest, provide a place to gather food and a place to hide from predators.

Buffers can be as simple as leaving a strip of unmowed grass along the shore or they can be more involved by planting a number of different native plant varieties. There are many flowering plants, both woody and herbaceous, that can enhance the look of the buffer and I have found that a good mix of plants usually leads to a successful planting. Things to consider when choosing what plants are going to do the best: Is your soil sandy, a more heavy clay soil or something in between? How much sun does your shoreline receive? Is your soil more wet or dry? Do you have a deer issue and if you do can you effectively deter their chewing on a regular basis?

Whether you just leave the grass grow or install a native plant buffer, your lake water clarity and quality will benefit. It is certainly a step in the right direction.

For those interested in installing a native plant buffer there is a wealth of information about how to install one in a book called "Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality" by the Minnesota DNR. This book is available through Minnesota Bookstore at www.minnesotabookstore.com .

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