Fall Cleanup to Help the Lake
by Executive Director Chris Boget

The last of the oak leaves are coming down, which means winter is just around the corner. We often don’t think of water quality during the colder months, but there are several steps you can take to protect Lake Champlain before Old Man Winter comes knocking.

We all struggle with where to put the leaves. The best way to protect water quality in the late fall is to prevent excess leaves from getting into storm drains, roadside ditches, and local waterways.  Loose leaves can carry pesticides, fertilizers, and excess nutrients such as phosphorous into the Lake. Storm drains and roadside ditches divert unfiltered and untreated storm water right into our natural streams and rivers.

Excess piles of leaves can also clog local culverts, storm drains and pipes, increasing the potential for flooding during heavy rains and snow melt. To help prevent neighborhood flooding, consider collecting autumn leaves from sidewalks, driveways, and the curb next to your property.

In addition to keeping your property tidy, raking and recycling leaves also helps protect water quality. You may wish to use some leaves as a natural fertilizer.  Using the mulch attachment on the lawn mower can quickly chop leaves and spread them around portions of your lawn that need a nutrient boost.  This puts the nutrients back into your yard, instead of local waterways, and eliminates the need for expensive fertilizers.

Downed foliage also makes a great mulch in landscaping beds.  A good mat of leaves spread under a tree in the yard or along the forest edge helps create a natural sponge layer that absorbs and retains stormwater.  Leaves can absorb and hold up to 300 percent of their weight in water, providing a natural water retention source to keep soils moist in the summer. You can also compost the leaves, capturing the energy and nutrients for next year’s garden.

Speaking of gardens, consider covering your garden with hay or mulch to limit erosion. Another practical and attractive option is to plant a hardy winter cover crop like oats or winter rye to replenish soil nutrients. Cover crops are grains or legumes that are grown off season and plowed back into the soil in the spring. These crops are often planted in late fall around the time of the first frost. This natural form of recycling is great for the Lake and next year’s tomatoes!

After you’ve put the garden to bed and mulched and spread the leaves, it’s time to look at your house.  When the late fall rains and the inevitable February thaws hit, will your gutters, downspouts, and driveway drains be ready?  Keeping gutters clear helps prevent backed up water and organic debris from rushing off your property.  Make sure any sources of excess sediment and nutrients like dirt mounds and leaf piles are located away from downspouts and runoff areas.

With a little ingenuity and a few hours of work, you can get your property in shape for the winter and protect the Lake. To learn more about water quality tips and how to create a more lake-friendly yard, please contact us at .