Kathy David, State of Michigan Nonpoint Source unit

What is Nonpoint Source, you ask?

Nonpoint Source (NPS) pollution is caused when rain, snowmelt, or wind carry pollutants and nutrients off the land and into lakes, streams or wetlands. In a lake community soap from car washing, fertilizers from our lawns, and oils and gasoline from our boats, mowers, and cars can enter the lake and cause cloudiness of the water, invasive plants to grow, and muck to accumulate on the lake bed. This makes the lake look dark and dirty.

Want clean, clearer water to swim in and beaches free of muck and weeds? It starts with small steps you and your neighbors can take on your lake property. Start by getting the lake “picked up”. Keep your shoreline and public areas free of wind blown plastic bags, bottles, and trash. Maintain your watercraft away from the shoreline so gas and oils don’t end up in the water. Wash your cars and boats on the lawn away from the lake so soapy water soaks into the ground.

The purpose of my workgroup, NPS, is to help the public improve their lakes and streams water quality. We have a variety of publications to help you find small steps you and your neighbors can take to make a start towards improved water quality.  Three terrific ones listed below describe the problem, steps you can take to start cleaning up the lake, and how you can design your landscape and lawn to help keep pollutants out of the lake.

Once you’ve taken some steps on your property to help improve water quality, you can begin to enjoy your lake like the folks in this final publication recommendation: Shoreline Living magazine.

Another way you can help your lake is by getting to know and work with your local watershed group. Many volunteer activities are available that you may get involved with or, simply look over their website for ways to improve your property. If you have additional questions, please contact the Nonpoint Source staff assigned to your county: Nonpoint Source Staff Map.

State Regulations involving Michigan inland lakes

Besides the assistance and resources offered by the State through NPS, there are some regulations that apply to construction projects at lake shorelines. Even small projects like installing a permanent dock or controlling erosion at your shoreline can have impacts on the fish and wildlife that share the lake with you. Because the actions one person takes on a lakeshore can have effects on all people and animals that share that lake, the State of Michigan has enacted the Part 301 Inland Lakes and Streams act that lake front property owners should be aware of. Inland Lakes & Streams Protection

Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams regulates all earth moving and construction activities at and waterward of the ordinary high water mark. This means a permit may be required for any project you wish to do at your shoreline. But because some projects are so prevalent, the State has created Minor Project categories for commonly performed projects, such as permanent docks and shoreline erosion control. The document at the link below will help you determine if your project will require a permit. Does my Project Require a Land and Water Interface Permit?

The following are typical projects regulated under Part 301. Please note: The following is only a partial list of the most common projects associated with inland lakes and streams. Other types of activities may also require permits.

Shore Protection: Because shore protection structures can have negative effects on natural resources and other shoreline properties, shore protection structures should only be installed when they are needed to address erosion problems and the type of shore protection used should be carefully considered. Because of these negative effects of vertical walls, EGLE recommends the use of natural shoreline treatments.  New shoreline hardening should be avoided where alternate approaches such as plantings and small stone can be used to protect property from erosion. The purpose and benefits of plantings and stone are to provide a natural transition between the open water and upland, while providing habitat.

Permanent Docks or Permanent Boat Hoists: Permanent docks or boat hoists which are left in year around require a permit. Seasonal docks and hoists do not require a permit if they are for private, non-commercial use by a landowner, do not unreasonably interfere with the use of the water by others, do not interfere with water flow and will not be placed in wetlands. Seasonal docks and hoists are those that are removed at the end of each boating season.

Beach Sanding: Placement of sand, pea stone, or other clean fill below (waterward) of the water line requires a permit.  A reasonable amount of sand may be placed landward of the water line without a permit as long as the sand does not shift the location of the existing ordinary high water mark or the shoreline contour. The sand cannot be placed in a wetland.

Dredging or Excavation: Any dredging below (waterward) of the ordinary high water mark of a lake or stream requires a permit. Dredging of a pond within 500 feet of a lake or stream also requires a permit. A permit is needed for any excavation where the purpose is enlargement of or ultimate connection with an existing lake or stream.

Bubblers: One project we are frequently asked about is bubblers. Bubblers are generally used to keep ice from forming around permanent docks or boat lifts. If attached to a permitted permanent dock or lift, a bubbler does not require a permit.  However, some local municipalities have regulations that ban bubblers. Riparians should be aware that they are taking on considerable personal liability should death or injury result from their use of a bubbler to de-ice an area. Additionally, bubblers should not be used in such a way as to impede navigation by people who are entitled to use the lake – such as using a bubbler to block ice fisherman from accessing the lake. Navigation and fishing are public trust rights and enforcement may occur if these rights are infringed.

Placement of other devices, such as decorative fountains, bottom diffusers, lake aeration, and any device that moves sediment such as the aqua thrusters and blasters are regulated and placement and use of them DOES require a permit. Aqua thrusters and blasters and similar devices cause a dredge and uncontrolled fill of lake bottomlands which can have negative impacts on the public trust, riparian rights, and the environment. In Michigan, these devices are regulated because due to wind and currents, the operator is unable to control where the muck and debris will be redeposited. The muck that is blasted off of one property can drift and redeposit into neighboring properties without their authorization, which makes these devices difficult to permit. Permit applicants should explore alternatives when considering thruster and blaster devices that allow for them and their neighbors to exercise their riparian rights responsibly while having a minimal impact on neighbors and the lake environment.

If you have questions about your rights and permit requirments as a lakefront property owner, please contact the Water Resources Division staff for your county: Land/Water Interface Permitting Staff Map.

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