Shoreland advisors partner to improve water quality

August 07, 2021

Your friendly, neighborhood shoreland advisor is eager to team up with you to protect and improve water quality.

Sponsored by the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA), the shoreland advisor program is a collaboration with Hubbard County University of Minnesota Extension and Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

The goal is to protect area lakes and rivers by pairing trained, volunteer advisors with property owners. Together, they explore alternative lawn, gardening and lake-friendly, best management practices.

The program is voluntary, a short-term commitment and free.

Karen Terry, a retired water resources educator with the University of Minnesota Extension, taught a “Shoreland Advisors 101” workshop to COLA members last September after spearheading a similar program for Itasca Waters.

Now COLA shoreland advisors walk the lake lot with interested owners, sharing ideas and resources to prevent runoff or erosion.

Meet an advisor

Sue Schiess and Ingrid Bey live on Kabekona Lake, northwest of Walker. Both are COLA shoreland advisors, each bringing different skill sets to the program.

By July 2021, they had completed three consultations on Kabekona, with two more slated.

Schiess has been a master gardener since 2004. “So I have a pretty good background in the horticulture aspect and the conservation aspect of things, the importance of native plants,” she said.

She and her husband planted nothing but native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers on their lake property, where they have lived since 2014.

For example, the fescue grass in their yard is “more slow-growing. It’s much more drought tolerant. It has deeper roots, which is probably why it’s more tolerant than bluegrass,” she explained.

Bey is a retired veterinarian with an undergraduate degree in biology.

“I love the lake. I love the natural world, and I love learning. I decided if there was anything I could do to help myself and my neighbors preserve this pristine lake and wetlands I would give it a shot,” Bey said. “I also decided to take the University of Minnesota aquatic invasive species (AIS) management course and the AIS detector course this year. With my background in biology, it all seemed to be a natural fit.”

Bey moved to a cabin on Kabekona Lake about four years ago with her partner, Dave Plunkett.

She likes the shoreland advisor program “because it is neighbor helping neighbor. It is low key and friendly.”

Schiess said, “The whole point of the shoreland advisors is to keep our lakes healthy. If we can improve them, great, but we sure as heck don’t want them to go downhill the way a lot of the lakes in southern Minnesota have. We’ve got this incredible resource. What are we doing to protect it? Through the training and my master gardener background, this is something I know a bit about.”

Slow the flow

During training, Terry explained that by intercepting rainwater and allowing it to soak into the landscape and filter through rain gardens, shoreland buffers or no-mow areas, lakeshore owners can help reduce excess nutrients – like phosphorus and nitrogen – and sediments going into the lake.

“Plants are probably the single best thing to get in the way – especially if they are native plants, they will have the deep roots,” Schiess said.

As water percolates through the soil, plants filter out unwanted nutrients before they reach the lake.

“Fall is an excellent time to plant perennials,” she noted.

Serviceberry grows 6 feet wide by 6 feet tall. “Sort of like a battalion of soldiers,” Schiess said of the shrub that provides year-round color and an edible fruit for birds and humans alike. Also called juneberries or Saskatoon berries, several serviceberry species are native to Minnesota.

Purple spiderwort thrives in sand, she said. Sand cherry, beard’s tongue and yellow goat’s beard are other natives.

“Anything to slow the flow,” Schiess said.

Schiess said it’s significantly cheaper to purchase native plant seeds rather than seedlings.

Phosphorus is among the most damaging nutrients, Schiess said, adding that Minnesota law prohibits phosphorus in lawn fertilizers. “So fertilize only if you need to, and not close to the lake and always, always use zero phosphorus.”

“The easiest thing to do is just let your lawn grow. Something a lot of people don’t realize, if we were to never mow this, it’d be full of trees in 20 years,” she said.

Tooth aspen, oak and pine trees are voluntarily emerging in the Schiess yard where it’s been left natural.

Make friends with ice ridges

“Ice ridges are formed by nature, but it’s very protective of the lake. It’s another that slows that water down,” Schiess said.

Terry also advises leaving ice ridges alone since it creates a natural berm to protect the lake water from nutrient runoff.

Soil and sun

Shoreland advisors listen to property owners’ needs and concerns.

Suggestions to improve water quality are based on the lake lot’s soil and sunshine. Most often, conditions are full sun and sandy soil, Schiess said, but other lake properties may be forested and shady.

Advisors look for water runoff, erosion, septic issues, types of vegetation and impervious surfaces.

Bey said, “Erosion has been a bigger concern than I realized.”

The diversity of property types around the lake has been another surprise to her. “Some have dramatic drop-offs and more erosion control issues. Some have a more gradual slope to the lake and just need some additional plantings,” she said.

Practices that might help include rain barrels, shoreline restoration, grassed swales, pollinator gardens, willow wattles, aquatic planting and native plants.

“This is advisory,” Schiess emphasized. “We’re not the cops – that’s not our role.”

Shoreland advisors merely offer suggestions. No landscaping designs or physical labor are involved.

Lake residents who are interested in having a shoreland advisor walk along their lakeshore and share insights about preventing runoff or erosion may email [email protected]. Include your name, lake, township and email address.