Being in Sheboygan County lends us the great gift of having a national treasure almost on our doorstep: Lake Michigan. So often taken for granted, the secondlargest Great Lake and its surrounding rivers provide some of the most treasured summer fun.
However, as we enter into the last real month of summer, it is important to look at the health of the lake, and what we can do to make sure that the great gifts this lake provides never become contaminated. While it might seem as if we cannot individually make an impact on things like pollution or invasive species, that is not the truth and we can all play a role in maintaining our lake. What is important to remember, being that our county is so close to the lake, is that much of the negative impact can come from sources that do not seem directly related to cleanliness of the water. For example, many people might not tie algae growth to the way in which they take care of their lawn or that lawn clippings can be pollutants. However, according to the Penn State Extension, grass clippings, fertilizers and pesticides all contribute to arguably the largest pollutant of natural waterways: phosphorous.
According to this same research group, one bushel of grass clippings that ends up in lakes is enough phosphorous to produce 30 to 50 pounds of algae, a daunting amount. These algae can take away from the fun of the lake. No one likes to swim in water with lots of algae, and additionally, when we have tons of algae, it takes oxygen out of the water. This process can lead to massive fish death and the loss of other things that make our lake’s ecosystem so diverse and healthy. It is a win-win for both Lake Michigan and us for us to make sure that when we take care of our lawns, we are also taking care of the lake and the animals that live there.
To avoid these things, make sure you do not blow grass clippings into the street or anywhere else that the rain can take them into storm drains. The best place to leave them is on the lawn itself as they are a great source of nutrients and water for the soil. Another thing we can all do is perform a soil test to determine how much fertilizer your lawn actually needs, and then only apply that much. Overfertilizing is bad both for the health and appearance of your grass, but also can lead to additional nutrients getting into the lake. Doing both of these things can have a direct impact on the health and algae population of our lakes, keeping the water safe, fun and clean for everyone.
Nate Davis is an AHEC intern with the Sheboygan County Division of Public Health.