Vermont’s waterways are home to a rich variety of fish and other species, and they provide terrific recreational opportunities, including canoeing, swimming, fishing, and boating. Vermont’s lakes, ponds, and rivers are under stress from many fronts, such as soil erosion, contaminated run off, unburned fuel from outboard motors, and the introduction of non-native species. Many of these pollutants are the result of everyday activities that most of us never think about.

Consider these one dozen ways you can help Vermont’s lakes and rivers:

  1. Keep shoreline and riverside buffers in place. Any property owner with land that borders a lake, pond, river, stream, or wetland has a relatively simple but important opportunity to protect the water quality. If your waterfront property already has trees, shrubs, and ground cover, leave these in place. These plants slow run-off, keep some pollutants from entering the water, and prevent erosion.
  2. If your waterfront property doesn’t have much vegetation, you can prevent erosion and improve water quality by planting appropriate ground cover, shrubs, and trees. The Agency of Natural Resources’ Water Quality Division offers a publication, Native Vegetation for Lakeshores, Streamsides, and Wetland Buffers, free of cost. It’s available by calling (802) 241-3770.
  3. If you’re building a new house, locate it well away from the edges of streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands—at least 50 feet—to keep waterfront vegetation in place and protect wildlife habitat.
  4. Do not import exotic plants, animals, or fish. As demonstrated by the explosive growth of zebra mussels in Lake Champlain, the introduction of a non-native species can have a dramatic impact on other wildlife species and personal property. Don’t bring new species of animals into Vermont, and don’t carry exotics from one waterway to another. (For instance, don’t carry bait and bait bucket water from one lake to another.) Clean your boat motor and trailer thoroughly before you leave an access area.
  5. Don’t use chemical lawn fertilizers or herbicides. Many commercial pesticides and herbicides are poisons that may run off your lawn and eventually enter a lake or river.
  6. Never pour hazardous materials such as paint, paint thinner, solvents, industrial cleaners, disinfectants, pesticides, or waste oil down toilets or sinks.
  7. Carefully choose your next outboard motor. Conventional two-stroke outboards release between 20 and 30 percent of their fuel/oil mixture unburned in the exhaust stream, which in Vermont totals an estimated 500,000 gallons of fuel entering our lakes and ponds annually. Four-stroke motors have emissions 75 to 90 percent lower than conventional two-stroke engines, don’t use an oil mixture, burn 30 to 40 percent less fuel, and last longer. Personal watercrafts (also known as jet skis) also operate inefficiently; a single 100-horsepower personal watercraft running for seven hours produces more hydrocarbons than the average car driven 100,000 miles.
  8. Use a gasoline container that you can handle with ease to avoid spilling when refueling your outboard motor. Pour slowly and smoothly, use a funnel or spout with an automatic stop device to prevent overfilling the gas tank, and stock your boat with petroleum absorbent pads to use while refueling. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule for your outboard.
  9. Maintain your septic system properly and have your septic tank pumped every two to three years. Monitoring and cleaning your system regularly protects your groundwater and surface waters, and saves you money by prolonging the life of the system. Be alert to signs of a failing system, such as the presence of wet areas above the leach field and backing up of wastewater following periods of heavy water use. Don’t use chemical additives that claim to negate the need for pumping.
  10. Do not pour grease or cooking oil down the drain. It will clog the soil and leaching system. Similarly, don’t overload your system with food waste from the garbage disposal.
  11. Never flush non-biodegradable objects—such as disposable diapers—down the toilet.
  12. Support efforts in your community to protect rivers, lakes, and wetlands and the land around them.