WW-06946 Reviewed 2008
Limiting Impact of Recreation on Water Quality
Shoreland Best Management Practices
Number 5 of 18 in the Series
Best Management Practices (BMPs) are actions you can take to reduce your impact on the environment. BMPs have been described for agriculture, forest management, and construction. This fact sheet describes BMPs you can adopt on your shoreland property to help protect and preserve water quality. In many cases, the best management for shorelands may be retaining the natural characteristics of your property.
Recreational activities can adversely affect both water quality and the shoreline, particularly when they focus on the waterfront. You can minimize these adverse impacts by developing and practicing a stewardship attitude as you enjoy your shoreland property and participate in outdoor activities.
Recreational opportunities are a primary reason people choose to live by or visit Minnesota lakes and rivers, and the demand on our water resources is always increasing. That increasing demand also increases the potential for damage to water quality and shorelines.
Assessing and improving leisure-time activities will help preserve water quality for fish and wildlife habitat as well as for our own recreational purposes. Poor water quality can affect recreation in and on the water, degrade fish and wildlife habitat, pose a health risk for water-contact recreation, and threaten the safety of your drinking water supply.
Over time, the waterfront environment has developed a natural balance based on linkages between water, land, vegetation, and wildlife. This delicate equilibrium can be easily disrupted when humans move in and rearrange the shoreland area or when any of the components are destroyed.
When using the waterfront for recreation, make sure your activities do not cause lasting damage to the shoreline or water. As a property owner, you should consider existing characteristics of the property to determine whether development is suitable. If you decide to alter your waterfront, develop a site plan that uses existing natural features of your shoreline instead of requiring major alteration.
Plan for both passive enjoyment of water resources and active pastimes. If a view of the water is important, consider strategic removal of vegetation to create a line-of-sight rather than clear-cutting and establishing an open lawn. Before removing vegetation in the shore impact zone, check with local zoning officials for guidelines. Remember to include appropriate aquatic and terrestrial wildlife habitat in your plans to enhance your shoreland enjoyment.
If you landscape your lot, plan to preserve or re-establish vegetation, install appropriate erosion control methods, and reduce runoff to protect your shoreland property and water quality (see fact sheets #6, 7, and 8).
The BMPs described below focus on specific recreational activities and are appropriate for property owners and visitors to Minnesota waters.
Soil and rock in the shoreland area have characteristics that influence the type and amount of natural aquatic and upland vegetation and ground water in your area. Vegetation physically slows runoff, enhances infiltration of runoff, and takes up nutrients dissolved in runoff and ground water. Fish, ducks, and other life depend on vegetation for food, spawning, and shelter. In addition, aquatic vegetation protects your shoreline by damping wave action (see Figure 1). Remember to:
If a swimming beach is a priority, try to purchase a lake or river lot that already has an established beach or sandy shoreline. If you choose to develop a beach, select a site that requires minimal alteration of your shoreline.
FIRST contact your DNR Area Hydrol-ogist for information and appropriate permits for beach development. A good beach site should:
If you decide to develop a beach, consider the impact of alteration on the shore: you may be "gaining" a beach, but you will be losing habitat, runoff control, and erosion control. For additional information obtain a copy of the Beach Sand Blankets brochure from the DNR Division of Waters.
A beach sand blanket may consist of washed sand ranging in grain size from very fine sand to "pea-gravel." If you add sand, use the largest available grain size, e.g., pea-gravel, to provide a more stable beach. Use of a swimming raft may be a good alternative to the development of a sand beach. Due to boating safety concerns, the county sheriff's department requires an easily obtainable permit for floating rafts.
Many recreational activities involve the use of motorized watercraft, including personal watercraft, inboard and outboard motor boats for fishing or water-skiing, and houseboats. The following BMPs will help minimize potential damage to lakes and rivers:
Figure 1: Terrestrial vegetation minimizes runoff that can impair water quality and aquatic vegetation dampens wave action to help reduce shoreline erosion.
Camping is a recreational activity that takes us away from regular habits for cleanup, washing, and waste disposal. Some practices that will help minimize impact on the environment are listed below:
Remember to always follow the specific rules or guidelines established for the areas in which you are camping (e.g., wilderness areas, state parks, or private campgrounds).
Local units of government have established standards that are based on statewide shoreland regulations for nearshore structures, such as boat houses, saunas, and gazebos. In developing a site plan or planning a waterfront structure, property owners should:
Docks, boat ramps, and decks offer ways to reach and enjoy the waterfront. If not properly constructed and maintained, they may cause water quality problems. For more information contact the DNR Area Hydrol-ogist or county zoning office and follow these BMPs:
The use of off-road vehicles, such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), mountain bikes, and snowmobiles, can have a severe effect on lakes and rivers by increasing erosion, turbidity, and sedimentation. Follow these BMPs to minimize the impact of your off-road recreation on water quality:
Planning and maintaining a healthy waterfront is far less costly than trying to fix a disturbed system and benefits are far greater. Repairing shoreline damage is rarely successful and often impossible. For some shoreline modification projects, you will need a permit. Fees for permits vary; contact the DNR Area Hydrologist for more information.
Fees for many recreational licenses help enhance Minnesota's water-based recreation through educational programs, research, fish stocking, trails and access development, and habitat protection.
Your investment in Minnesota's water resources will pay off in returns to you and future generations through enhanced recreation and improved wildlife habitat.
Any alteration of the lake/river bottom below the Ordinary High Water Level (OHWL) is subject to the regulatory jurisdiction of the DNR. Any alteration of the shoreland above the OHWL is subject to the regulations of the local unit of government (county, township, or municipality).
The OHWL is the highest water level that a lake has maintained for enough time to leave evidence on the landscape. It is often identified as where natural vegetation changes from aquatic to upland species. For streams, the OHWL is generally the top of the bank of the channel.
You should determine the location of the OHWL on your waterfront property (Figure 2). Contact your DNR Area Hydrologist or county zoning officials for assistance. Your DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor can assist you with questions regarding aquatic plant management methods and permits.
In some areas, concerned citizens or lake associations have informally established restrictions for recreational use of surface waters. Some of these, such as "no-wake" zones, are intended to help protect water quality. Others are more social and are designed to enhance community enjoyment, such as noise reduction and curfews. In some cases, county boards have enacted ordinances to formalize these guidelines into regulations. Check with your zoning officials or property owners association about whether any apply in your area.
Figure 2: Cross section showing the ordinary high water level (OHWL) which is the legal boundary of the lakebed; in some cases, the OHWL is located many yards away from the open water.
regional offices of MN State agencies:
read(all available from the DNR
This fact sheet is one of a series designed to assist shoreland property owners in protecting and preserving water quality. The series includes:
This series of fact sheets is a cooperative effort of the following agencies:
University of Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota
College of Natural Resources, University of Minnesota
Water Plan Coordinators of the Arrowhead counties
Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
Minnesota Department of Health
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife,
Division of Waters, Division of Forestry
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Minnesota Sea Grant Extension Program
Mississippi Headwaters Board
St. Louis County Health Department, Environmental Services Division
Soil and Water Conservation Districts of the Arrowhead counties
Natural Resources Conservation Services
Environmental Protection Agency
Western Lake Superior Sanitary District
These publications may be photocopied for local distribution. The addition of commercial names, products, or identifiers is not permitted. please do not add or delete any text material without contacting:
You may add information about contact persons or regulations specific to your county, region, or lake association.
University of Minnesota Extension Store St Paul, MN 55108-6069 612-625-8173
Produced by the Arrowhead Water Quality Team, a cooperative effort of Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis counties and state and federal agencies. All publicly funded agencies involved are committed to equal opportunity education, service, and employment.
In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, this material is available in alternative formats upon request. Please contact your University of Minnesota Extension office or the Extension Store at (800) 876-8636.