October 14, 2019
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How one man’s laziness is saving the environment around Pushaw Lake

Bob Duchesne | BDN
Bob Duchesne | BDN
Bob Duchesne is saving the environment -- by being lazy.

For once, my laziness has paid off. My yard became the first certified LakeSmart property on all of Pushaw Lake. To accomplish that, I didn’t lift a finger. Literally.

LakeSmart is a voluntary program designed to educate lakeside homeowners on how to protect water quality. It’s offered through the Maine Lakes Society, in cooperation with its 120 lake association members.

Many years ago, the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 curbed some of the worst pollution in Maine lakes. Yet water quality continued to decline, mostly due to stormwater runoff. Erosion carries soil into the water, and soil carries phosphorus, an elemental nutrient that encourages algae blooms.

Left alone, vegetation and leaf litter build up along natural shorelines, filtering runoff and preventing nutrient overload. But lakeside development levels trees, clears bushes and replaces leaf litter with fertilized lawns, increasing the phosphorus load. To make matters worse, impervious structures, such as buildings, decks, patios and boat ramps, accelerate stormwater flow and increase erosion.

To answer this challenge, Maine passed a shoreland zoning law in 1971. It’s a common misconception that the law was intended to protect the scenery of Maine’s lakes by restricting development along the water’s edge. Rather, the act was aimed at the prevention of erosion.

It worked. Degradation of water quality slowed. Some lakes improved. We know it worked, because Maine had cribbed its new law from Vermont, which had just passed the nation’s first shoreland zoning law one year earlier. Unfortunately, Vermont’s law included a five-year sunset, and it was automatically repealed in 1975. Later, when Vermont faced continuing declines in water quality, officials wondered why Maine lakes were healthier. In 2011, Vermont sent a team to Maine to study lakes comparable to theirs. In short order, the team reached an inescapable conclusion: the difference was shoreland zoning.

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Unfortunately, many lakeside cottages in Maine were built long before the law, sometimes within inches of the waterline, and crowded together. Drainage on camp roads often directs runoff toward the lake. Fertilized lawns have grown more popular. Water quality remains a constant worry.

LakeSmart is a modern way to address the problem. The free program informs homeowners on how to maximize enjoyment of their properties, while minimizing erosion. The lake association volunteers are trained to offer onsite assessments, with tips on how to avoid or correct problems. Homeowners who embrace these easy steps win an award — two attractive, blue-and-white LakeSmart signs. One of my signs faces the road. The other faces the lake. I know I’m bragging, but it feels good.

And now I admit that I am not only lazy, but selfish. Located just a few miles north of Bangor, Pushaw Lake is nearly 8 miles long, but not very deep. When excess phosphorus causes an algae bloom, the water turns green and stinks. If blooms persist, property values drop. It doesn’t take much phosphorus to trigger a bloom — anything over 15 parts per billion can do it. Unfortunately, Pushaw Lake sometimes exceeds that, and it’s been slowly getting worse. So if my laziness protects my property value, I have a financial incentive.

Here’s the lazy part. The shoreline of my property was once cleared, devoid of anything but blueberries. But since moving in nearly 20 years ago, I have seldom done anything to discourage regrowth along the shoreline. It was too much like work. So saplings of oak, maple, birch and balsam have now reached a height of 12 feet — not enough to obscure the view from my deck, but enough to prevent erosion.

You might be tempted to call the grass around my house a lawn. You’d be wrong. It’s just a thin crop of weeds, mowed occasionally. I wouldn’t think of fertilizing, because I’d have to mow more often. I have better things to do with my weekends. My weed-whacker broke 15 years ago, so vigorous vegetation grows along the edges of my yard.

I don’t spray for pests. I have a lot of birds, and they treat my yard like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I do follow the LakeSmart recommendation of removing my dock each fall, but only because ice-out in spring will mash it if I don’t.

Water does not run down my unpaved driveway and into the lake. It runs into my garage, dang it.

I hate raking. Leaf litter surrounds my property in LakeSmart fashion.

When I moved in, I never thought that I would be an environmental hero. But thanks to my innate laziness, I’m crushing it!

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s September 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

 



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