Lake Tips: A Watershed Management Plan

Formulating a Plan for Your Lake
There are many approaches to cleaning up a polluted lake. Some are quick fixes that may seem right at the time but, ultimately, do the lake little good. For instance, let's say a lake is choked with weeds that make it hard to use for irrigation or water skiing. You could just kill off the weeds with a herbicide. What if the lake is filling with sediment that causes problems for boaters. You could simply dredge the lake and get all the unwanted muck out of there.

Either of these solutions could get the job done, but are they lasting solutions? Not really. They simply address the symptoms of an ongoing problem. Why not formulate a lake clean-up plan that will be cost-effective, treat the source of the problem, and maximize the potential for a long-term solution? Let's consider some of the key components of a lake clean-up strategy that will lead us to the most desirable, long-lasting benefits for our time, effort and money.

Form Partnerships
One of the first steps in developing a successful lake management plan is to invite participation from all the people and groups that have an interest in the lake or those who will be affected by a lake project. Partnerships provide a forum for solving complex problems that involve many interests and, depending on the particular watershed, possibly a large and diverse geographic area.

The people with a stake in the lake watershed, those who are closest to problems that may exist, are best able to help determine effective solutions. Partnerships are helpful for encouraging clear and open communication, promoting a spirit of trust and cooperation, raising public awareness and educating people, and identifying problems, needs and financial resources. Giving the local community the power to affect decisions promotes a sense of hope and helps develop local leadership skills that are important for ensuring the future health of the lake. Partnerships are effective for stimulating creative solutions to complex problems.

An effective partnership will include people and groups with diverse talents, including those with technical, leadership, communication, education, political, and regulatory skills. To help build a partnership, develop a concise statement that defines the purpose of the alliance.

Gather Information
Getting a clear image of the lake watershed is the first task for partners. Gather maps and information outlining the watershed boundaries, geography, geology, land and recreational uses, fish and wildlife data, water quality data and demographic information, as well as development, employment and educational trends.

Equipped with this kind of information, you can begin to better identify and address all concerns about lake quality, as well as the local financial and social implications involved. The more information and data you gather, the easier it is to analyze the situation and get a clearer picture of the lake watershed and the concerns raised. Remember that sound scientific principles and techniques should be used in all water quality and watershed monitoring and data gathering.

Set Priorities
Once all concerns have been identified and data and information analyzed, it is time to begin to list, in priority order, the problems that need addressing. In developing this list, several things should be considered, including: Which problems have the best potential to be solved considering time and money available? How long will it take to solve a particular problem? How much motivation is there to solve the problem? Which problems are in critical areas of the watershed or those areas that have the greatest impact on the lake resource quality?

Establish Goals and Objectives
After the problems in the lake watershed are identified and priorities set, goals and objectives should be established to clarify what needs to be done to solve the problems. The goals should be relatively broad in scope, capturing the essence of the project's purpose. An example of a goal might be "To restore and protect Clear Lake and its watershed by supporting all citizens, organizations and agencies who are working toward improved and sustainable water quality."

Objectives should be more specific than goals. Objectives need to be achievable, meaningful and measurable, with a specific date of completion. For example, one objective might be, "Reduce the phosphorus level in Clear Lake by 20 percent in two years." Keep in mind that objectives may have to be refined as additional information becomes available. To promote a feeling of ownership in the project outcome, goals and objectives should be developed with participation from all partners.

Develop Alternatives
The next step is to develop and analyze different actions to restore and manage the lake resources. Keep in mind that solutions that address the source of the problem, not just the symptoms, will be more cost-effective in the long-run. Consider the short-term and long-term costs and benefits for each solution or alternative. Document this, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each suggestion. The alternative that offers the most benefits for the cost is the one to select.

The alternatives selected will be used to form an action plan. The action plan should list each objective, each solution or alternative that supports that objective, and specific actions for each alternative. It is also a good idea to list who is responsible for carrying out each action, a deadline for completion and the cost involved.

A communication plan also needs to be included in the overall lake watershed management plan. Such a plan can help you generate support for the project, while informing and educating the community about the lake and its watershed, as well as the role that all citizens play in the quality of their natural resources.

Evaluate Efforts
Start with a baseline of data and information. You can use this to document and compare (continuously monitor) the progress of ongoing activities. By writing down each of the actions that are completed, as well as those that are still outstanding, you not only document progress, but equip the group to consider changing course, if necessary, when it is clear other objectives are more attainable. Flexibility to make changes to the action plan, based on feedback and progress measurement, is vital to success. By documenting every step, you also can help the group deal openly and effectively with conflicts. Differing views and opinions are part of the process. Solid information, understanding and compromise are invaluable for resolving conflicts.

Implement Plan
Carry out all the actions the group agrees upon in priority order. Available funding, costs, benefits, time requirements to see results, and motivation all play a role in deciding priority. It also may be helpful to consider what actions you can do now that will support actions you can accomplish later. For example, curtailing sediment input to a lake (preventive action) should be done before dredging (remediation action).

Celebrate Success
Give credit for the hard work that has been done and promote a sense of accomplishment by celebrating successes, both large and small, along the way!