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Beyond the Water: Effectively Managing Lake and Pond Shorelines

By Trent Nelson

Imagine taking an evening walk as the sun sets across the beautiful lake or pond in your community. The sky is pink and orange, crickets are chirping, and a warm breeze blows across the water. Now, imagine looking down at the steep shoreline in front of you, finding that it’s bare, crumbling, and so unstable that you’re wary to venture to the edge. Not only is this an unsightly and even dangerous distraction, but it can make residents question the management priorities of their association and deter new homeowners from settling down in the community.

Even the most well-cared-for lakes and ponds are incomplete without regular shoreline maintenance. Preventive management is necessary to support the health and longevity of the overall ecosystem, and management efforts can vary for each part of the shoreline. However, before jumping into implementing proactive and ongoing strategies, existing erosion issues must be addressed.

The most effective solution for severe erosion is installing a bioengineered living shoreline. This is a specialized soil containment system composed of a knitted mesh material that reshapes and anchors the shore in place. This solution has two-fold benefits: in addition to enhancing the aesthetics of any property, professionals can also restore pond volume by repurposing bottom muck during the installation process.

Once erosion is corrected, community managers can turn their attention to proactive management strategies that support multiple areas: the littoral zone, the buffer zone, and the landscaped zones that surround it. They all have a significant impact on the overall health of a lake or pond, but each is unique and benefits from tailored management approaches.


The littoral zone is the sloped "shelf" that connects water to land. Sunlight penetrates through the entire water column in this shallow area. When healthy, the littoral zone can resemble a miniature wetland consisting of native plants that increase dissolved oxygen and create vital habitat for beneficial fish and organisms. Typically, the littoral zone reflects the health of the entire aquatic ecosystem.

When managing the littoral zone, aquatic experts focus on several priorities. Cultivating a healthy littoral ecosystem means nurturing beneficial species while managing undesirable weeds and algae.

  • Regular water quality testing can identify imbalances in the ecosystem and help inform management practices that support healthy littoral areas.
  • Nutrient remediation products can help remove the excess phosphorus and pollutants to improve water quality and reduce cloudiness and odors.
  • Beneficial microorganisms and bacteria can be introduced to help maintain ecological balance and sustain aquatic life—like probiotics for your pond.
  • Sometimes the littoral zone can become stagnant and oxygen-deprived under the hot sun. A floating fountain can help circulate and oxygenate this shallow area while creating beauty and movement on the surface. Management Best Practices for the 3 Pond Shoreline Zones

Management Best Practices for the 3 Pond Shoreline Zones

Landscaped Zone

  • Eliminate fertilizers or use organic products
  • Dispose of leaves, lawn clippings, and organic debris
  • Remove pet waste

Vegetative Buffer Zone

  • Allow buffer to extend 3-5 ft. from shoreline
  • Grow buffer plants at least 18 in. tall
  • Limit mowing or trimming
  • Control invasive weeds
  • Establish water access paths

Littoral Zone

  • Conduct regular water quality testing to identify imbalances
  • Implement nutrient remediation solutions for algae and weed control
  • Introduce fountains or aeration to circulate water


The buffer zone refers to the area directly on the shoreline above the littoral shelf, extending several feet in elevation. A healthy buffer zone contains native grasses and flowering plants with complex root systems that hold soil in place. These beneficial buffer plants not only prevent erosion, they help filter out the debris and pollutants contained in stormwater runoff.

Professionals utilize many strategies to help enhance the buffer zone and maintain a healthy living shoreline.

  • An ideal buffer should extend 3-5 ft. from the shoreline and grow at least 18 in. tall. Limit mowing in this area to prevent stunted growth and shoreline instability.
  • Vegetative buffers are susceptible to the growth of invasive weeds. EPA-registered herbicides are sometimes necessary to target this growth. Professional drones have made monitoring and applications safer and more efficient.
  • Establish designated paths and docks for residents to enjoy the water without trampling the buffer zone.


This is the area that is generally mowed and landscaped in the vicinity of a lake or pond. This does not simply refer to the immediate property around the waterbody; it can encompass many acres of land depending on surrounding topography, nearby pollution, and urban development. Many factors in the surrounding area can influence a waterbody.

It is crucial to adopt responsible land management practices across a community to maintain ecological balance.

  • Eliminate the use of fertilizers or switch to organic products.
  • Make sure plants used in gardens and landscaping are native to the area.
  • Maintain lawn mowers, cars, and landscaping equipment to prevent oil leaks.
  • Bag and dispose of leaves, lawn clippings, and organic debris while landscaping.
  • Maintain stormwater equipment to ensure water flows properly during rainstorms.
  • Introduce trash receptacles and dog waste stations throughout the community.
  • Educate residents about why and how they can support these proactive efforts.

Lakes and ponds are dynamic, ever-changing environments that are impacted by countless environmental and human influences. Properly caring for your waterbody starts with bioengineering a more stable and long-lasting living shoreline. Then, proactive ongoing shoreline maintenance will help ensure your waterbody stays healthy and enjoyable—from the outside in.

Trent Nelson is an aquatic specialist at SOLitude Lake Management, a leading environmental firm specializing in sustainable lake, stormwater pond, wetland, and fisheries management. Learn more about this topic at





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