Leaves and Lakes

Every fall, we receive countless calls about people blowing leaves into the lake. Is it allowed? What can be done?

Leaves in Lake NormanAfter 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.

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Jan 25, 2017 NC Riverkeeper Report
From the perspectives of 12 NC Riverkeepers, this report discusses how multiple environmental issues pose challenges in the pursuit of clean, plentiful water. Whether you are in North Carolina or downstream in South Carolina, read this report about the state of environmental enforcement.
Dec 13, 2016 Community Foundation of Gaston County grants $5,000 to CRF for Riverkeeper Program
The Community Foundation will fund Catawba Riverkeeper's work in Gaston County.
Dec 12, 2016 A Successful Launch of our Water Education Program at Great Falls Elementary
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in partnership with 4-H Clemson Cooperative Extension successfully completed our pilot Education Outreach Program with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students from Great Falls Elementary.
Sep 27, 2016 Lake Wateree Fall Cleanup a Sweeping Success
86 volunteers collected 5,490 pounds of trash from Lake Wateree
Jun 13, 2016 Dozens of Youth Reached in Water Education Outreach Program Pilot Lessons
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Tell your Riverkeeper if you see:

  • Sewage Overflows
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Click here to fill out a pollution report or to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494.  In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.

To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.

To report North Carolina spills or fish kills, call your local regional Department of Environment & Natural Resources office during normal business hours (704-663-1699 for most Catawba basin areas or (828) 296-4500 for Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and other mountain counties) or 800-858-0368 after hours.  (For more information on NC spill reporting, click here)


The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a proud member of EarthShare North Carolina, the North Carolina Conservation Network, River Network and the Waterkeeper Alliance.  It also in in an alliance with Clean Air Carolina to address issues, such as sprawl, that cause air and water problems.

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715 N. Church St., Suite 120 . Charlotte, NC 28202 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559