Leaves and Lakes
Every fall, we receive countless calls about people blowing leaves into the lake. Is it allowed? What can be done?
After the trees are painted with the beautiful colors of fall leaves, those leaves come to paint the ground. No one enjoys picking up leaves, and that's probably why many lakefront residents are inclined to blow leaves into the lake.
At that point in the season, we start to receive calls. The leaves accumulate on the water surface, especially in the backs of coves and along certain areas of shoreline. The leaves then also accumulate on the lake bottom around docks and places where people swim and recreate.
So, is this all OK? In terms of the environment and boater safety, no. In terms of lake regulations? Basically.
Blowing leaves into lakes and waterways causes multiple problems:
- Depletion of dissolved oxygen
- Nutrient overloading, which later leads to algae blooms
- Filling in of lake and burial of benthic biota
- Safety hazards (inability to see below leaves)
The decomposition of the leaves is what eats up dissolved oxygen degrades water quality. It makes for a very rotten, squishy, unpleasant lake bottom. The decomposition also produces large amounts of methane, which is often what bubbles up when the bottom is disturbed. Sometimes, it can inflate an pair of swim trunks like a balloon! This methane is extremely bad for the atmosphere, too.
Residents might not even need to bag leaves they blow. Instead of blowing to the lake, residents might be able to just blow a pile of leaves to the street. Certain municipalities (e.g., Cornelius on Lake Norman) will come collect unbagged leaves. Additionally, mulching leaves where they lie or making compost out of them can help replenish nutrients in the ground previously taken up by tree roots to grow leaves.
Duke Energy's Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) forbids disposing of "debris" into the lake. However, the lack of explicitness regarding leaves and the number of complaints made are reasons for which Duke will not contact lakefront property owners to stop the practice. Beyond Duke, there's nothing else on the books. One key distinction, though, is that if you ever see landscaping companies (i.e., not just an individual property owner on their own property) dumping large amounts of any sort of debris (leaves, lawn clippings, etc), that is definitely worth a call to Duke, which will follow up in those cases.
If you would still like to make a report to Duke Energy, you are able to so at 1-800-443-5193, and to remind them that this is a problem, you should still contact Duke.
Residents also can pursue a local ordinance. Contact your elected officials to discuss this option, and if you contact us at the Riverkeeper, we can put you in touch with other residents interested in pursuing a similar ordinance.