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Settling for a silver medal, thanks to dog manure

Shoreland Stewards sign in front of lake property

Today's MI Environment story is by Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., EGLE's communications manager.

I fell short of Gold Status, and dog poop was part of my downfall.

I should explain.

Leaving pet waste near the shoreline of a lake or stream allows nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to wash directly into the waterways, polluting it with E. Coli bacteria and potentially contributing to harmful algal blooms. On my family's Northern Michigan lakefront property, I've been tossing the leavings from Milo and Wren (dogs, not kids) into the underbrush, rather than bagging it and putting it in the trash.

That cost me points in the Shoreland Stewards survey - designed to assess how well waterfront property owners protect the water from negative impacts. The web-based questionnaire queries riparian owners on management practices including how much vegetation they keep as a shoreline buffer against pollutants and runoff, whether they use fertilizers and pesticides, and, yes, whether they pick up pet waste when the critters deposit it near the water's edge.

The Shoreland Stewards program is packed full of information including videos on good management practices to help protect riparian property owners' little pieces of the Great Lakes water ecosystem, which holds 20 percent of the planet's fresh surface water. More than 30 lake associations are partners in the program, which has attracted more than 1,200 Michiganders who've taken the shoreline assessment. The program is offered through the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership, which provides training, education and research in shoreline protection.

The survey gives out a participation medal (Starter Status) for taking it, and Bronze, Silver and Gold status if you employ good management practices in part or full.

Despite the fecal failing, our family scored high enough to earn Silver Status through good practices including:

  • Not using fertilizer or pesticides anywhere on the property, and particularly near the shore.
  • Maintaining a buffer strip of vegetation along the shoreline to trap and absorb nutrients and pollutants before the flow into the water during rainstorms.
  • Minimizing impervious services in favor of "soft" surfaces that absorb rainwater like a sponge and release it gradually to the waterway.
  • Properly maintaining and regularly pumping/inspecting the septic system.
  • Not excessively grooming the shoreline to create large stretches of sandy beach - good for wading, not so good for erosion control or water quality.

Next year, I expect to retake the survey with my eye on Gold Status. I'm told picking up the pet waste alone won't get me there (I need more upland vegetation), but it'll get me closer. I've spoken with Wren and Milo about doing their business upland, rather than near the lakeshore. They told me to pound sand (I think they were trying to be clever). So, it'll be bagging and tossing from now on. Or trading the dogs in for cats.

To learn more about the Shoreland Stewards program, check out EGLE's video series.

Photo caption: Shoreland Stewards sign in front of lake property

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