Photo Credit: Nicole Avagliano
A natural shoreline doesn’t just look beautiful – it acts as a buffer and can:
- mitigate the impacts of storm water and septic effluent
- support native biodiversity by conserving habitat for native flora and fauna
- provide the necessary conditions for fish
- maintain essential wildlife corridors
- regulate lake water temperatures in the near-shore area
- diffuse light and reduce unwanted noise
- preserve the character of our lakes – the very reason we choose to live by their shores!
The best way of all is simply to leave everything as natural as you can. It’s always best not to over-develop or ‘harden’ your shoreline by introducing grass, concrete, walls and boulders at the water’s edge. And try and avoid building any sizable structures anywhere close to the water.
The best tip we can give is to try and think of your shoreline as a 30-metre strip of land, working back from the water’s edge. Leave as much of this area as natural as you can; and it’s definitely best not to have a large, manicured lawn running down to the lake…this type of shoreline is one of the least effective at keeping pollutants out of our lakes. Canada geese love lawns tho’: it’s their favourite place to poop.
And if you get the chance to plant some extra local shrubs and trees by your shoreline, then that’s a great idea too.
While shoreline buffers of between 3 and 15 metres can and do remove some phosphorous and sediment from run-off, respected and current scientific literature overwhelmingly supports buffer widths of 30 metres or more.
It’s common sense really: every extra meter of buffer helps make the shoreline a more effective filter.
Our septic systems are amazing: in partnership with natural shorelines, a healthy septic will help filter out much of the phosphorous and nitrogen from our waste that can cause an increase in poisonous blue-green algal blooms.
However, ageing or damaged septic systems can be a real threat to lake-water quality. We should aim to take care of them in the same way that we would maintain any part of our water supply systems.
It’s critical that we get our septics professionally and thoroughly inspected every 5 years. And just like with our own health and wellbeing, we need to be very aware of what we are putting into our systems.
Our septics rely on a specialist set of bacteria to do their job, and we can kill these bacteria if we don’t pay attention to what we flush or drain into our tanks.
The usual suspects that we should all try and avoid putting in our septic systems are: medication, chlorine bleach, paint and paint thinners, chemical drain cleaners and bath oils. We should also avoid using anti-bacterial soaps and cleansers, and always check that the shampoos, conditioners, laundry detergents and dishwashing soaps we use contain zero phosphorous and nitrogen.
The most important thing is not to overload the system by using too much water at any one time. For example, spread loads of laundry across the week.
Always respect the tile bed that’s around your septic. This space needs to be left clear so the septic can do what it is designed to do and gently feed treated water back into the environment.
Blue-green algal blooms are caused by a chemical imbalance in our lake-water. It is often the case that an over-abundance of phosphorous and nitrogen will be the chief culprits. Changes in the amount of sunlight and warmer temperatures are also known to contribute to an increase in algal blooms.
Increases in the presence of phosphorous and nitrogen can easily be caused by unfiltered runoff from rainfall, lawns, goose poop reaching the water, fertilizers being used close to the water’s edge, and untreated failing septic systems. Even uncollected dog poop left on our properties can increase phosphorous levels in the water.
Uncontrolled development of our shorelines is also a critical factor. If we don’t leave a 30-metre buffer of land in as natural a condition as possible, then our shorelines cannot help filter the nitrogen and phosphorous from the waters that pass through them on their way to our lakes.
Yes. Blue green algae has always been present in many of our lakes. The difference now is that poisonous blooms of these algae are happening ever more frequently and in increasing numbers of lakes across Haliburton County and Ontario.
According to FOCA (the Federation of Ontario Cottage Owners)
the best course of action is to report suspected sightings by calling
The Spills Action Centre: 1-800-268-6060 or going to https://www.ontario.ca/page/report-pollution-and-spills
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has launched
a website page dedicated to identifying blue-green algae. Visit:
In order to protect your own and your family’s health, it’s important that you immediately:
- Stop drinking the lake-water, regardless of the filter system you may have in place
- Stop swimming in the lake
- Stop children and pets from getting in the lake
- Stop fishing, and do not eat any recently-caught fish
And please check that your bloom has been reported by calling
The Spills Action Centre: 1-800-268-6060
or report online at:
Your water is still likely to be highly poisonous if you boil it and boiling can release toxins into the air. Please do not drink it under any circumstances.
There are numerous studies available from North American lakeside communities who have suffered from blue-green algal blooms.
The economic impact is typically two-fold:
- The impact on property values: cottage country – and Haliburton in particular – has enjoyed some of Ontario’s biggest rises in property values in the last two years, and growth is expected to continue. However, lakes with blue-green algal blooms are likely to be excluded from these rates of growth, with studies from the US typically showing a reduction in property values of between 15 and 30% for lakefront properties on lakes suffering from blue-green algal blooms.
- The impact on the community: reputations matter, and it’s important that our County doesn’t develop a reputation for lakes with blooms – this will deter tourism and severely impact the local economy. For example, the Natural Resources Ministry notes that the angling industry in Ontario is worth $2.4 billion each year.
In consultation with the community, Haliburton County Council has been developing a by-law for the last 3 years. They have now asked for the input of a specialist consultancy to help advise them on the most appropriate by-law, taking into account the views and requirements of the various stakeholders in our community.
It is understood that the consultants will be appointed during the Spring of 2021 and that their findings will be presented to the Council over the Summer. A draft by-law will then be published for public consultation, with the intention that it is in place as soon as the process allows.
One of the most helpful things you can do is to plant more natural vegetation (especially native shrubs) into the 30-metre buffer zone: this will not only help intercept the runoff but also filter it more thoroughly before it heads to your lake.
It’s good to leave pine needles and fallen tree foliage on the ground to encourage the growth of ground cover; and if your property has been cleared and your lawn reaches almost to the waterfront, it’s best not to mow the 20 or so feet of lawn closest to the lake.
Finally, if trees were once removed to give an unbroken view of your lake, then it’s much better to maintain that view just by trimming the occasional branch from the remaining trees, rather than removing any more of them.
You can add eavestroughs to any existing buildings and use rain barrels to catch the runoff. This water is ideally suited for plant-watering and garden work.
Road salt is indeed a serious issue facing our lakes and its precise role in causing chemical imbalance would benefit from a great deal more comparative research than is currently available. One thing we do know is that salt levels in our lakes do of course vary greatly according to a lake’s specific location. Lakes that are close to a major roadway on which salt is used suffer from much higher concentrations. Helpfully, the lakes that participate in the Lake Partner Program have their levels monitored annually (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19). More information on the Lake Partner Program is available at https://desc.ca/programs/LPP.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of hard data available on crayfish numbers, as no government body monitors this issue. There is, however, a lot of anecdotal information. People who have been on the lakes for decades report that the populations of crayfish have gone from plentiful to very low over the last twenty to thirty years.
One of the best resources available for addressing difficult and complex locations such as these is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11tHTsxKvt0
There are some excellent tools available to help correctly identify Blue Green Algae:
- On the Ontario government website: Ontario government Blue Green Algae page
- On the C.H.A. website: https://www.cohpoa.org/lake-health-3/algae-and-algal-blooms/
Erosion from boat wakes is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. There is a group that is partially focused on that issue and their helpful website is https://safequiet.ca/.
The experts also tell us that a natural shoreline with deep rooted native vegetation is less likely to erode than an over-developed one. An excellent webinar is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11tHTsxKvt0.
Faulty septic systems are a major source of nutrients and pollutants entering our lakes, including phosphorous – a leading cause of toxic Blue Green Algal blooms. Rigorous septic re-inspection programmes, designed to prevent unnecessary septic system leakage before it happens, are therefore incredibly important to the health and future of our lakes. As of Spring 2021, all 4 Haliburton County municipalities have a re-inspection programme in place.
Regardless of the type of shoreline, there is definite consensus among scientists that 30 metres should be the minimum buffer zone reserved for native vegetation. Most municipalities in Ontario have already adopted this standard. In Haliburton County, a 30-metre setback for new buildings has actually been in place for more than a decade. The new debate - in light of the increased threats to our lakes from climate change and invasive species - is whether 30 metres will continue to be enough.
BeShore represents a wide group of stakeholders of which the CHA are but one important member.
BeShore Haliburton is a not-for-profit coalition of Haliburton County residents, associations and businesses. Together, we have developed the BeShore campaign - a community-run communication program - designed to be inclusive and provide science-based information clearly and respectfully.