Yard waste adds organic matter to the lake, compromising water quality and wildlife health

Lake Martin’s beautifully landscaped lawns carry an important responsibility. Whether a homeowner enjoys time mowing his lawn or hires a professional to do the job, disposing of the debris, if not handled properly, could cause potential problems in our Treasured Lake.

Although professional lawn maintenance companies do not generally blow or dump grass clippings into the lake, many homeowners and individuals that offer lawn maintenance may not realize the negative impact the waste has on water life, both animals and plants.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the grass clippings that are blown or dumped into the lake create a detrimental environment for fish and aquatic life. In fact, the EPA considers nutrient pollution the most widespread and challenging threat to our nation’s waterways. Green waste dumping, which causes excess nitrogen and phosphorous to enter the water, impacts the aquatic ecosystem, causing algae to grow faster than the ecosystems can handle.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System states that dumping grass and other yard waste into waterways is illegal. Grass clippings contain nitrogen, which fish and other water life require to live; however, an abundance of nitrogen depletes the oxygen in the water.

Rhett Hanks, lake manager at Alabama Power Company’s Dadeville Shoreline Management office, said, “Yard waste – such as grass clippings, leaves and other organic material – can impact water quality if it ends up in the lake, or any waterway. Aesthetically, it also isn’t the prettiest thing to have piles of leaves or grass near the shoreline.”

John Thompson, president of the Lake Martin Resource Association, considers yard waste thrown into the lake the same as littering on the road.

“I have received numerous calls from lake residents who see their neighbors blowing grass clippings into the lake, but they do not want to confront them, of course. I think, in most cases, they are just annoyed by the grass floating on top of the water,” Thompson said.

ACES suggests several options for homeowners who maintain their own yards and for individuals who offer lawn services.

One best practice is to mow frequently, so no more than one-third of the turf grass length is cut in a single mow. Research indicates that the need for fertilizer is reduced by up to 50 percent when the clippings are left on the lawn and allowed to return the nitrogen to the soil. ACES also recommends spreading a thin layer of clippings behind shrubbery.

“We definitely recommend that grass clippings be left on the lawn,” said Shane Harris, extension coordinator for Tallapoosa County.

Larry Bates, landscape architect for Russell Lands, suggested it is best to have a buffer of pine straw between the grass and the lake, to bag grass clippings and to return clippings to the ground as mulch.

“People don’t mean to litter, in most cases. They throw something into the back of a truck and it blows out later. It’s the same with the yard. Blowing the grass into the lake is easy, and the intention is not to cause a problem. They may not even be aware of the potential problems,” Thompson said.

All in all, the rule of thumb should be to prevent as much yard waste as possible from entering the lake by bagging clippings and recycling them as mulch or by leaving short clippings on the lawn to reintroduce nitrogen.