What is Lake Management and How Can It Benefit Your Community?December 13, 2023
Have you ever driven to a lake on the weekend, ready to have a nice, relaxing few days? But when you arrive, you discover the lake’s surface is coated in green scum that looks like pea soup? Or have you planned a fishing trip for you and your friends and family, only to discover that the lake that used to be navigable is now choked with weedy plants? These conditions can do much more than ruin a weekend with friends and family. They threaten the ecological balance of lakes and ponds and they put public health at risks. There is a science behind why these conditions occur and how to prevent them, but to implement long lasting, meaningful fixes, you must also consider how people use a waterbody.
That’s Lake Management. It merges the science of how a lake functions with the social aspects of how a community uses the lake. In Lake Management, we work to improve the ecological, recreational, and the public health aspects of lakes. In this, our first blog in a series, we’ll introduce the science of Lake Management, the role of a Lake Manager, and the part each plays in the larger lake community.
The value of lakes and ponds
Lakes, ponds, and reservoirs are an integral part of human society. These waterbodies serve as a central figure for many communities by providing clean drinking water, generating hydropower, facilitating recreational opportunities, and adding aesthetic value to the area. Many of us have fond memories linked to lakes, memories that we may carry all of our lives, like the first time we caught a fish or a weekend at a family member’s lake camp.
Unfortunately, the beauty and pristine nature of many of these waterbodies are under numerous threats. Intensified recreational use and increased development pressure within the watersheds and along shorelines has accelerated pollution, leading to the degradation of water quality. Algae blooms, shallowing depths, man-made contaminants, fecal bacteria, and an increase in aquatic invasive species (AIS) are some of the impacts severely limiting lake uses and values. Currently, many of our waterbodies are impaired by these impacts and support a fraction of the uses they once did.
How can we combat these threats? That’s where we need Lake Management; that dual-pronged approach between science and the society. Lakes and ponds are dynamic. They are the perfect melting pot of physical, chemical, and biological processes working together to create an intricate system. These dynamics also change on a yearly, monthly, and even daily scale, creating a unique and varied ecosystem. You must understand and account for these interworking factors when planning restoration and mitigation measures. To control harmful algae blooms for example, it’s critical to understand in-lake light and heat regimes and nutrient concentrations and cycling processes, both on a temporal and spatial scale, in order to design the right management strategies.
Lakes and ponds also represent a complex societal matrix, often linked to the desired uses of the system. Not every user values the waterbody in the same manner or for the same activities, and so the efficacy of “fix” is subjective depending on user priorities. Fisherman, for example, may see the abundance of weeds in a lake as a positive. This likely puts fishers in conflict with swimmers, who don’t want their feet tangled in the weeds. Conflicts like these can stall management efforts. These varied value judgments are very common and highlight the multifaceted social dynamics at play in any water body. That’s where a Lake Manager comes in.
How can a lake manager help?
Much like the two-pronged approach of Lake Management, a Lake Manager is an expert conduit between the science and the society of your water body. We merge the scientific understanding of lake ecosystems and societal dynamics. Lake Managers operate in both worlds, linking them together in an unbiased way that moves everyone toward clean waters. Lake Managers have many responsibilities, including monitoring existing conditions and establishing baselines, designing and/or evaluating restoration measures, communicating lake science and restoration efforts to the community, and acting as an impartial arbiter between various use disagreements.
Issues that face lakes and ponds are multifaceted and often lake associations, towns, and utilities do not have the expertise in-house to tackle these problems. A Lake Manager can take a wholistic look at the lake and its watershed and guide management actions that are both scientifically sound and socially acceptable in a short and long term context. An effective Lake Manager has to understand all available techniques to remedy a particular situation, including the pros, cons, costs, permitting requirements, expected results, etc. This expert knowledge is invaluable when making decisions. Many groups spin their wheels on management, taking actions that are not sustainable or appropriate for the problem at hand, driven by a desire to see instant results, or they jump too quickly at the first appealing strategy. These uninformed actions can lead to inappropriate allocation of funds and failure to reach desired conditions and goals. What’s more, there are often disagreements on what management actions can and should be taken. A Lake Manager can help set a direction and be the unbiased “voice of reason” when there are so many competing interests present.