Archive for the ‘Riparian Buffers’ Category

New Vermont Law Promises Healthier Lakes

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The Shoreland Protection Act

The Vermont Legislature has passed a new law that restricts development within 250 feet of any lake in the state greater than ten acres.  The flyer below is the best summary of the Act’s provisions we have found to date.

shorelands act summary

Click above for two page summary

The law is effective beginning July 1st of this year.  The DEC is quickly gearing up to issue permits, and to field questions about the law’s terms and exceptions.  At this point it seems to us that it cannot help but benefit the lake.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Shoreland Protection Act: LINK

The full text of the new law: HERE.

New 25 page Handbook for Shoreland Development: LINK

Two More Lakeshore Properties Improved

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

This year the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife awarded the Lake Fairlee Association a grant to support our efforts to preserve and enhance our lake’s health.  By planting new shrubs and perennials we restored buffer zones on the shores of three lake residences, which will act as a filter to keep nutrients and pollutants out of the lake.  As you will have read in these posts, surface water flowing into the lake carries nitrogen and phosphorous from decayed plant matter and fertilizers, and toxic substances from pesticides and human trash.  The single best thing we can do to to keep the lake clear is to deter this runoff, best accomplished by allowing a natural ‘buffer’ to develop along the shore.  Simply by not mowing, raking, or cultivating a distance back from the shore the leaves and fallen plant matter that collect will slow the runoff and help remove unwanted contaminants.

Since our last post buffers were created on two more properties, completing the work funded by the grant.  Redwing Meadow, more recently known as the Tifft farm, has a long low shoreline.  In recent years grass has been allowed to grow tall down near the lake, excepting a mowed path or two.

Tifft’s before

Tifft’s after






The Snow’s property on Lakeshore Drive has a bank about three feet high above the water.  Here besides filtering runoff the roots of the woody plants will slow the erosion of the shoreline.

Snow’s before

Snow’s after







Now the plants are in the ground, have been mulched, and the surrounding area seeded and covered with straw. The single best thing that every lake owner can do to ensure an effective natural filter is to stop mowing, raking, and cultivating near the shoreline.  This lets leaves and detritus to collect on the ground and new seedlings to take root.  The ungroomed natural growth that results works best.

Who Made This Possible?

Money from the grant paid the cost of the plants and materials. The labor was donated by lake residents, conservation commission members, and generous neighbors.  The property owners have agreed to allow their shorelines to be used as models to show others what a lakeshore “makeover” can look like.

Some of those who helped:

  • E.C. Brown’s Nursery in Thetford provided all of the plants . . . then advised us about native choices, selected hardy individuals, and gave a generous discount.
  • Peggy Willey
  • Corey Paye
  • Julie Paye
  • Ann Stephens
  • Doug Tifft
  • Bonnie McAdam,
  • Renee Snow
  • Libby Chapin
  • John Chapin
  • Skip Brown

Thank you one and all (and any we have overlooked)

Part of the wet but happy crew at the Tifft’s

Riparian Buffer Restoration Project Update

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

As described in an earlier post (LINK), one of the grants we have been awarded this year is for a demonstration project to improve the buffer along several residential shorelines around the lake. Three properties were selected, one in each of the three towns that border the lake.

Many hands make light work!


The lakeshore of the Shermans’ camp in West Fairlee received the first attention.  On Saturday, September 12th, a small group of volunteers comprised of lake residents and members of the West Fairlee Conservation Commission met on a crisp cool late summer morning.



The Shermans have a lawn right down to the lake, low enough that it can get flooded when the lake level is high.

Shermans' shoreline "before"

They have a small beach, some of which is covered by a removable deck.

Before planting

The job was accomplished in a scant two hours.  We left a four foot path, and planted a buffer on either side.  We emphasized to Lee and Norm that the single most important thing they could do would be to leave the buffer area ungroomed, unmanicured, and untended.  The leaves and detritus that accumulates on the ground constitutes nature’s best filter.

Here is the finished product.  The Shermans, who were out of town when the work was done, were thrilled with their new look.

After planting

We will be planting two more shorelines in the end of September and the beginning of October.  You can read about them when they are completed here.

Restoring a Collapsing Bank

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Progress Update on Shoreline Restoration Project

Where Robinson Hill Road is adjacent to Lake Fairlee a stretch of the shoreline has eroded significantly.  The road is poorly situated anyway, too close to the lake.  Constant wave action due to wind and powerboat wakes have undercut the bank dangerously.  And years of careless road maintenance have allowed the road to widen, reducing its distance from the lake.

In 2011 the Lake Fairlee Association was awarded a Better Backroads Grant which allowed us to reclaim some of the area between the road and the shore, and plant native shrubs and perennials there to stabilize the soil.  LINK  That initial step was successful, so this year we applied for and received another BBR grant to rebuild the bank and extend the shoreline farther towards the lake.

All the work is being done by volunteers.  Local residents and Asociation members provided much of the labor, and the town of Thetford has donated their road crew to deliver the rocks and soil.  The grant money pays for the shrubs and perennials to be planted, and for the crushed stone and soil as well.

(click on the small images to see larger ones)

September 7th


Here is what the shoreline looked like on September 7th, before any work began.





September 7th


It is hard to tell from that view how badly undercut the shoreline is, because it is obscured by the plants.  In this view you can see the erosion better.




September 13th


Here is the shoreline on September 13th.  A siltscreen is in place to reduce silting in the lake, and a large amount of crushed rock has been placed to establish a new bank.




September 17th


September 18th, a gray rainy morning.  Fabric was placed on top of the stones yesterday, in anticipation of the soil, now scheduled to arrive on Thursday.




Heavy rains forecast just when we planned to place the dirt fill on the crushed stone caused a last minute adjustment of our schedule.  We are now planning to accomplish most of the rest of the project on Thursday, September 20th. Stay tuned for updates.

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So the rain came on schedule on Wednesday, and Thursday morning was bright and clear.  The Thetford road crew  delivered the fill bright and early, and spread it in an even layer over the fabric.  The plants were delivered by E.C. Brown’s Nursery.  Around 11:00am an eager crew of volunteers showed up and did the planting, seeding, mulching, and haying.  A good time was had by all.

Here is a collection of pictures from planting day:


planting day 1


planting day 2


planting day 3


planting day 4


planting day 5


planting day 6


planting day 7


planting day 8


planting day 9


planting day 10



Shoreline Grants Update

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

As reported earlier [LINK], LFA has been awarded two grants this year which support our efforts to preserve the health of our lake.  A lot has already happened behind the scenes, and soon we will begin the visible work.

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The Better Backroads Grant continues work begun last fall, when volunteers began restoration of the shoreline along Robinson Hill Road [LINK].  This month we will stabilize the same section of shoreline to reduce erosion at the waterline.  The project requires that we first install a silt fence in the water to contain turbidity.  Next medium size stones (6-12″) will be placed on the lake bottom to create a stable toe of slope and a base to place fill on.  These rockes will protrude a foot above the high water line.  Fabric will be laid on top of these, and then fill sloping up to the top of the bank. Finally more shrubs and vegetation will be planted, and the slope seeded and mulched to minimize erosion.

This all should be completed by the end of September. The Town of Thetford will transport and deposit the rocks and the fill, and volunteers will install the silt fence, the fabric, and do the planting.

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The Watershed Grant from the Department of Fish and Wildlife will pay for the restoration of riparian buffers along three sections of lakeshore.  As we have explained [LINK], a “buffer” of native vegetation along the water’s edge separates the uphill land uses from the lake and benefits water quality.  We have identified three properties around the lake which will benefit from additional lakeshore planting.  Each presents a different challenge.  We will post before and after photos when we report on the completion of the project.

An example of a well vegetated residential shoreline

Two New Shoreline Grants Awarded

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

The Lake Fairlee Association has been awarded two grants this spring in support of our efforts to improve the health of our lake.

The first is $8000 from the Vermont Better Backroads program to support the second of three phases of shoreline restoration along Robinson Hill Road in the southwest corner of the lake.

The second is a $5000 “Watershed Grant” from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to help shoreline owners restore their shoreline to a natural protective buffer.

Better Backroads Grant

Planting along Robinson Hill Road

This grant will continue work done last September on the lakeshore adjacent to Robinson Hill Road.  Over the years the gravel road had become wider and wider, and the road grader and snowplow had removed most of the vegetation between the road and the lake.  We reported on the first phase of the restoration project HERE.

This grant will continue the project.  Where the bank is is “inverted:” due to erosion rocks will be added to rebuild the bank and stabilize the bank along the edge of the road.

Watershed Grant

The Lake Fairlee Association has long been encouraging lakeshore property owners to create or expand natural buffer zones along the shore.  See, e.g., earlier posts HERE and HERE.  This grant from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife we will help us make some real progress in this area.

The grant requires us to identify several (three?) properties around the lake that would benefit from riparian buffer restoration.  After obtaining the agreement of the landowners, we will develop a restoration plan for each, in consultation with scientists from the Vermont Water Quality Division.  Grant money will purchase plants and material required, and we will solicit volunteer labor to complete the projects.

We plan to choose properties that represent each of the three towns around the lake, and ones that can visibly model the beneficial improvements that we accomplish.  We will publicize these projects in the hopes that they might encourage imitation.

One of the most important techniques in developing an effective buffer is just to allow the shoreline to “go natural,” to return to its natural state.  Plant roots stabilize the soil and prevent erosion, and an undisturbed layer of decaying leaves and organic matter, called “duff,” provides a most efective filter to remove pollutants from runoff.  HERE is a longer and better explanation.

We are grateful to the State of Vermont for providing the funding that makes this kind of project possible.

A Better Explanation of Riparian Buffers

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

A buffer helps the lake but does not diminish the owners enjoyment

The Lake Fairlee Association has long been extolling the virtues of riparian buffers. They improve water quality, they protect the shore from erosion, and they just look good. The State of Vermont has put together a new web page that explains the whys and hows pretty well.

Choosing not to mow near the lakeshore creates a modest buffer

Vermont’s Act 250 constrains construction and other activities near the lake. Here is a LINK to a document clarifying the expectations of that Act.

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The following is adapted from this excellent web page created by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Lakeshore Vegetation and Buffers


Natural lakeshore vegetation is critical to the long-term health of a lake environment. A “buffer” of native vegetation along the water’s edge separates the uphill land uses from the lake thus providing numerous water quality, scenic, privacy and habitat benefits. On this page you’ll read about the elements of a buffer, their values, and what you can do to enhance or protect shoreland vegetation on your lake.

What is a Buffer?

A buffer is a width of vegetated land between the lake and adjacent land uses. To function as a “buffer,” the vegetation should be a natural mixture of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and the “duff” layer. Think of it as the native Vermont woods. A buffer has many components (leaf canopy layers, decomposing material, etc.) that function together to protect the lake, and many values (wildlife and aquatic habitat, filtration of runoff, bank stability, scenery, etc.).

A buffer is a naturally vegetated width of land between the water’s edge of a lake, stream or wetland, and uphill land uses. It is composed of a mix of trees, shrubs, ground cover and undisturbed ground.

Multiple layers of vegetation make up a buffer.

  • tree canopy
  • understory trees
  • shrubs of different heights
  • low growing groundcover
  • “duff,” the decomposing organic matter on the forest floor

These layers treat runoff entering the buffer from uphill as well as allow for maximum absorption of rainfall and numerous shallow water and shoreland habitat values.

The different layers of leaves both hold rain (up to 1/2 inch of rain can be held on the tree leaves) and slow its descent. Rain falling gently will erode the ground less or not at all.

The ground vegetation slows the runoff on the ground, encourages it to be absorbed into the soil, and catches and holds sediments that may be in the runoff.

The groundcover functions to both hold the soil in place and to treat runoff from uphill. Groundcover is a critical component of a buffer.

The duff, or decomposing organic matter, is an essential component of a buffer. Its spongy and absorbent characteristics allow for absorption of runoff from uphill land uses.

The lack of a duff layer is the reason why lawns do not provide the runoff treatment of a buffer, as lawns tend to be hard packed and offer little absorption. A lawn, even under trees, also does not provide most of the habitat values and benefits of a buffer.

The natural uneven ground of woods provides numerous crevices and small basins for runoff to be absorbed and removed of its pollutants

Values and Benefits of Buffers

The shoreland is the critical interface between the lake and the terrestrial environment.

  • Aquatic life gains important habitat materials (fallen leaves, branches and trees), food (fallen insects), and shade from overhanging vegetation
  • Many birds and animals depend on proximity to water for breeding or feeding and use the wooded buffer
  • A well-vegetated buffer will filter pollutants such as sediments and phosphorus out of runoff from uphill land uses
  • A buffer of diverse tree, shrub and plant species provides long-term bank stability
  • A wooded shore adds beauty to a lake experience

A naturally vegetated buffer along lakes provide numerous benefits to people and the environment, from protection of the water quality and beauty that bring people to the lake, to the functioning of the lake as part of a healthy ecological landscape.

Mown grass has shallow roots and cannot withstand the erosive forces of waves and high water.

A naturally vegetated shore provides bank stability through a complex mix of root depths and patterns.

Removing shore trees and shrubs exposes the adjacent shallow water to more sun and to increased sediment and phosphorus runoff. The increased light, warmer water and additional nutrients result in increased algae and nuisance plant growth in the immediate nearshore area.

In addition, a lake without, or with little, buffering vegetation will experience an overall increase in phosphorus concentration, meaning more algae growth everywhere and less water clarity.

People generally agree that shoreland vegetation increases the beauty of a lake


A Riparian Buffer Success Story

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Abbey outlines the task

On September 16th a group of volunteers gathered to plant a buffer of native vegetation along several hundred feet of Lake Fairlee’s shore.  In recent years this unpaved section of Robinson Hill Road has been washing into the lake.  It is well understood how runoff harms lakes and streams, accelerating their eutrophication and contributing to harmful algae growth.  Thanks to a grant from the Better Back Roads Program we have begun the process of restoring a healthy lakeshore.

The Better Back Roads program is in its 15th year helping Towns and private organizations keep silt and sediment out of our waterways with better maintenance practices.  Late last spring a small group of residents learned that a grant might be available for a project that would “promote the use of erosion control and maintenance techniques that save money while protecting and enhancing Vermont’s lakes and streams.”  They approached the Lake Fairlee Association and the Town of Thetford, inviting both to help provide the ‘local match’ required by the grant.

Ready for planting

A plan was developed, an application filed, and by early July the grant was awarded.  The project was scheduled for September.  Several hundred feet of Robinson Hill Road would be regraded to provide a wider shoulder for the new planting.  The grant of $1980 paid for screened topsoil, 26 plants, winter rye seed, and bales of straw mulch.  The Town of Thetford donated their heavy equipment (a backhoe and dump truck) with two men to operate them, as well as labor to dig the ditch, dispose of the fill they dug, transport the topsoil, and distribute it along the ditch.

Volunteer labor

A dozen volunteers provided labor, including representatives from the Lake Fairlee Association, the Thetford Conservation Commission, the West Fairlee Conservation Commission, and a few unaffiliated friends of the lake.  Two staff members from Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources were present at the site with shovels in hand: Ben Copans, Coordinator of the Ompompanoosuc Watershed District, part of the state’s Water Quality Division, and Abbey Williard, Manager of the White River Natural Resources Conservation District, who consulted about the buffer plan, and oversaw the project.

Mulching finishes the job

The planting date was delayed by tropical storm Irene, but the morning of September 16th was sunny and brisk as our volunteers met along the old Camp Norway shore.  Many hands (and shovels and rakes) made easy work.


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It is a pleasure to report some really good news once in a while!

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More photos of the planting party can be found HERE.

An Open Letter to Lake Residents

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Dear Neighbor,

I too have property on the lake.  We have a common interest in preserving the health and beauty of our wonderful lake.

Are you planning any construction or landscaping on your property?  You may not be aware of the possible adverse impact that soil runoff into the lake can cause, and of beneficial choices available to you as you plan your finished lakeshore.

Lake Fairlee is becoming increasingly nutrient rich, which is accelerating its eutrophication.  [EXPLANATION] While this is a natural process in all lakes, ours is beginning to show signs of algal blooms and other symptoms of its over-rich diet.  Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous enter the lake as runoff from lawn fertilizer and farm manure far up in the watershed.  Also every time the earth is disturbed (even for road maintenance) there is soil runoff that finds its way into the lake, and this soil contains nitrogen fixed by plants and in decomposing plant matter.

We hope that those who build around the lake are aware of this process and take steps to minimize the impact of their activity.  The silt fence that contractors are supposed to put downhill from their work probably helps a little.  Please encourage your builder to consider the health of the lake as he proceeds, and be careful as he digs and grades.  Protecting the health of the lake is the right thing to do, AND it protects our property values.

One of the best and easiest things a lakeshore property owner can do is to create and maintain a shoreline buffer.  Leaving an area of natural growth by the lake will both secure the shore against premature erosion and act as a filter for runoff from farther up the hill. [MORE INFORMATION]

The worst thing for a lakeshore – from the perspective of lake health – is a beautiful green lawn stretching down to the lake.  Usually this means fertilizer to promote growth and weed killer to keep down crabgrass etc.  Each of these is harmful to the lake.  And both can be ameliorated by planting a un-manicured buffer along the shore.  Simply electing not to mow down to the shore will allow useful growth to take over.

I hope you find this information helpful.  And that you take my letter in the neighborly spirit in which I intend.  Those of us who are lucky enough to own property on the lake have a special responsibility that comes with our delightful home sites.  The future health of the lake depends on us.

A Primer on Lake Health

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The Natural Evolution of a Lake

Lakes in nature evolve.  A young lake has very clear water and is usually surrounded by rocks.  As time passes, erosion brings soil and organic matter into the lake, and it gradually becomes richer in nutrients.  It supports a rich diversity of aquatic plants and the fish that feed on them.  The runoff contains sand and clay and soil, some of which is not washed downstream and settles on the bottom as silt. It also contains increasing amounts of organic content, decayed plants and animals and animal waste.  Eventually – after many thousands of years – this sediment will fill in the lake, and it will become a marsh then a swamp then a field or forest.

One way that scientists classify lakes is by their trophic states [LINK].  A lake’s trophic classification is determined by the amount of nutrients in the lake, which in turn determine the amount of plant growth the lake can support. Lake Fairlee is in its mesotrophic phase, a mature lake growing into middle age. As additional nutrients run into the lake it will naturally become eutrophic, a state characterized by dense plant growth and algal blooms. While this is an excellent habitat for waterfowl, swimmers and boaters find it less enjoyable.

A eutrophic lake, characterized by algal blooms

Nutrients: Nitrogen and Phosphorous

Nitrogen (nitrates) and phosphorous (phosphates) are the primary nutrients needed by all plants to flourish.  Increased levels of these nutrients accelerate the natural process of maturation/degradation of a lake.

Of course nitrogen and phosphorous are found in fertilizer and plant food, which are used for their beneficial effect on lawns, gardens, and farms.  When excess is washed into the lake, it fertilizes plant growth there.  Every type of aquatic plant is affected, from single celled algae to beautiful water lilies.  Fast growing weeds, like Eurasian milfoil, absorb these nutrients rapidly with corresponding growth.

These nutrients are also found in all plant matter.  So trees, leaves, and needles that fall in the lake contribute to its nutrient load. More importantly, plants die and decompose on land, and become the rich soil in our forests and fields.  These plants have spent their lives (literally) pulling nitrogen out of the air and binding it in their cells.  When the land is disturbed, by natural erosion or human disturbance, this soil most often ends up in the lake, and increases its nutrient level.

These nutrients are also found in animal waste.  Farmers and gardeners have long taken advantage of this.  Manure that is spread on fields can run off to the lake, especially after a heavy rain.  An aging or poorly constructed septic system might also leak into the lake.

Pollutants: Oils, Chemicals, and Drugs

While excess nutrients can be too much of a good thing for our lake, other substances are just plain noxious.  Among the most problematic are oil, paint, and solvents.  This includes nail polish remover!  Unused pharmaceuticals or over-the-counter medications can also cause real problems.  Fortunately a properly constructed and maintained septic system will keep most of these from the lake.

But wait!  Because paint and oils can be ruinous for a septic system, some people would rather dispose of them by pouring them in the woods behind the garage.  Eventually some of this waste will find its way into the lake.  (Our problems are actually less than municipalities with community waste processing.  People throw just about anything down a garbage disposal . . . )

Because of the nature of drugs and hydrophobic (oily) contaminants, just a very small amount can have a detrimental effect on plants and animals in the lake.  We will probably never know just what human waste is in the lake.

The Whole Watershed

Lake Fairlee itself covers about 450 acres, but its watershed is more than 25 times as large.  All the runoff from within this 20 square mile area eventually finds its way into Lake Fairlee.  This means that when a farmer up Middlebrook Road spreads manure, some will flow down to the lake. (and that is good, nutrient rich, fertilizer)  It means that when a home builder half way to Bradford breaks ground for a new building, the soil unearthed will find its way into the lake.  Likewise, when the road maintenance crew of one of our three towns does routine grading on one of our many gravel roads it will likely affect our lake.

It may be helpful to think of the watershed as being like a sponge, just soaking up nutrients and pollutants.  The more slowly they are released into the lake, the better (from our point of view).  So let’s do what we can to avoid forest fires, earthquakes, clear cutting, and massive excavation.  And when we must disturb the earth anywhere near the lake, lets do so in such a way as to minimize the inevitable runoff.

What Can We Do?

We cannot stop the gradual maturation and filling-in of our lake.  We can, however, take steps to reduce our contribution to the process.  We can also stop allowing the introduction of hazardous chemicals.

To minimize the increase in nutrient levels:

  • When doing farming, construction, landscaping, road repair: MINIMIZE disturbance (to the extent possible, NO DIGGING)
  • Do not use chemical fertilizer nor herbicides
  • Plant a buffer zone — this prevents erosion and filters pollution from runoff
  • Work with your builder, architect, and town to make decisions that are healthy for the lake.  Little changes.
  • Road maintenance matters.  Work with town road departments.

To protect against other pollutants:

  • Dispose of paint, solvents, drugs, and the like properly
  • Inspect and maintain your septic systems
  • Educate the community

Remember, even clearing a lot three miles upstream has an impact.  Think of the whole watershed!

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links for more information: