Maintaining healthy habitat and healthy lakes

With over 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, that’s a lot of miles of shoreline! There are many things you can do to make your shoreline both beautiful and functional for maintaining water quality and healthy habitat in our lakes.
Converting to a natural shoreline may take a bit of a change in perspective. We’re used to immaculately groomed lawns running right up to the lake’s edge. A natural shoreline consists of a buffer of native plants and shrubs along the lake’s edge.

There are two main benefits to maintaining a natural shoreline: to slow runoff and filter nutrients that might otherwise reach your lake, and to maintain a healthy habitat for fish, birds, insects and other animals that live in and around the lake. A natural shoreline can also increase privacy, increase property value, enhance aesthetics, and deter nuisance geese.

Rain and high water can cause runoff and erosion into the lake that carries with it nutrients and pollutants. The nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) feed algae and pollutants can affect water quality and habitat quality. This runoff can be referred to as nonpoint source pollution because it comes from a large diffuse area. Point source pollution would come from a distinct source such as a discharge pipe. When a lake lot has a lot of paved area (impervious surface) and groomed lawn, this nonpoint source pollution runs right into the lake instead of absorbing into the ground. A natural buffer of native plants can filter and absorb this runoff so that it doesn’t impact the lake.

Fish, birds, insects and other animals need plants and aquatic vegetation for habitat. Many fish hide among plants and spawn in the protected areas. Loons and other shorebirds make their nests in floating vegetation at the edge of the water. Waterfowl feed on underwater plants, and muskrats, otters and beavers make their homes in shoreline vegetation. Aquatic insects live among underwater plants and are important in recycling and decomposing the dead material at the bottom of the lake such as leaves, dead fish, and other organisms. They are also a major food source for fish, birds and frogs.

Sand brought in for swimming beaches covers natural habitat that is used by fish to spawn, mayflies for burrows and frogs for laying eggs. Riprap can stabilize steep shores, but doesn’t help much in preventing or filtering runoff.

You don’t have to make your whole shoreline natural, you can leave a mown path to your dock. A natural shoreline does not have to eliminate recreation and access to the lake. Shoreline design professionals usually recommend creating a buffer of vegetation 30 feet from the shore that extends to the water. Even 10 feet of buffer vegetation is better than nothing. This buffer can cover 75% of your shoreline frontage, leaving 25% as a path to your dock. There are many beautiful native plants and grasses that can be used for lakescaping. Remember, you may need to apply for a permit from the DNR to make certain changes to your shoreline.

For more information on shorelines and when a permit is required, visit the DNR: For more information on shoreline restoration visit the Minnesota Shoreline Management Resource guide at: