Science

Vermont Lakeshores – Vulnerable Places

Vermont has more than 800 lakes with roughly 1,500 miles of shoreline offering home and habitat to people and wildlife. People love Vermont lakeshores for access to fishing and water sports, beautiful landscape, seasonal retreat, and year-round living. That makes our lakeshores valuable real estate, with an estimated 45 percent having some type of development within 250 feet of the water. Equally important, however, is the role lakeshores play in protecting our lakes, and a healthy lake is the very reason why people are drawn to the shore.

Vermont Watershed Management Division lake scientists have shown that development activity which removes the native woodlands measurably degrades shallow water aquatic habitat. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Lake Assessment Survey, Vermont lakes ranked worse in the nation for extent of lakeshore disturbance as measured by the amount of shoreland clearing. In addition, research in Wisconsin has shown that cleared shores contribute 18 times more sediment, five times more runoff, and seven times more phosphorus to the lake than those where the shoreland is wooded.

Unlike many of the states in the northern tier of the country, Vermont has no statewide regulations guiding shoreline development. Act 250 and the Stormwater Management rules have only limited applicability on the small parcels where most lakeshore development occurs. Less than 20% of towns have shoreline development regulations. This gap and the condition of shallow water habitat in our lakes have prompted a statewide conversation around shoreland protection.

In 2013, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources submitted the Act 138 Report, including Lake Shoreland Protection and Management Options, to the Vermont Legislature. Since then, the House Fish and Wildlife Committee and the Senate Natural Resources Committee have been working on legislation for shoreland protection. After a series of public meetings in the summer and fall of 2013, the Legislative Shoreland Protection Commission released a draft report summarizing the comments received. A final public meeting will be held on January 8th, 2014 at the State House from 6-8 pm, and the Commission plans to release their final report on January 15th, 2014.

The Legislature is expected to resume working on lakeshore protection in the 2014 session, as they consider the lake science and the public input in their decision process. You can find more information about the legislative procedures at the Lake Shoreland Protection Commission website – https://leg2.vermont.gov/sites/legislature/LSP/default.aspx.

To learn more about what the health of Vermont lakeshores means to you, Vermont’s wildlife, and to Vermont’s economy, please visit the Lakes and Ponds Program webpage.

Common lakeshore development consists of clearing native vegetation and planting a lawn.  The science shows these changes diminish lake health. (Fig 2, part 2 of Act 138 Report)

Common lakeshore development consists of clearing native vegetation and planting a lawn. The science shows these changes diminish lake health. (Fig 2, part 2 of Act 138 Report)

Lake-friendly shoreland development includes setting a lawn back from the lake, maintaining carefully pruned native trees to stabilize the bank and leaving woodlands to filter run-off.  (Fig. 3, part 2 of the Act 138 report)

Lake-friendly shoreland development includes setting a lawn back from the lake, maintaining carefully pruned native trees to stabilize the bank and leaving woodlands to filter run-off. (Fig. 3, part 2 of the Act 138 report)