Preparing Lake (and Watershed) Management Plans

Lake and Watershed Management Plans

Lake management actions should be performed only after hydraulic and nutrient load studies have been conducted to pinpoint the problem or problems in the lake and watershed, and a lake management plan prepared. Watershed approaches may need to be implemented first to ameliorate nutrient or sediment loading issues from further impairing the lake, and once that is done, in-lake restoration actions may be warranted.

A lake and/or watershed management plan is a dynamic document that identifies goals and action items for the purpose of creating, protecting and/or maintaining desired conditions in a lake and its watershed for a given period of time. Each lake management plan is different, depending on the conditions of the lake (watershed) and the interests of the stakeholders involved. A lake management plan also provides a framework for future lake boards & users as to what issues have been addressed and how successful previous efforts were. Lake management plans can be created by lake associations, but are often best left to lake management professionals as there are usually a variety of complex and interrelated issues at play.

Although a lake management plan should be site-specific, there are certain topics that most plans address. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Lake information (depth, size, watershed, development, etc)
  • Aquatic species management
  • Aquatic invasive species management/control
  • Wildlife/fishery management
  • Nutrient budgeting
  • Shore protection
  • Water quality protection
  • Recreational management
  • Watershed management

There are various methods that can be used to write a lake management plan, but the basic steps to writing one are the same:

Step 1: Identify potential stakeholders. Stakeholders are not just the lakeshore property owners. The best lake management plans include all sorts of interests connected to a lake, such as lake association/districts; chambers of commerce; tourism businesses such as restaurants, bars, bait shops, etc.; sports clubs; fish & game clubs; wildlife organizations; boaters; agricultural interests in the watershed; other commercial interests; town/county/city organizations & agencies; environmental groups; any local tribes; other lake users.

Step 2: Keep the public informed and seek public input. Written or oral surveys can be used to help identify what users consider to be problems. Seek information from various sources when gathering data to characterize the water body. Hold public meetings at which you gather information and answer questions. Solicit input from all your contacts.

Step 3: Keep in touch with relevant agencies. This will give you information about any necessary applications, permits, zoning issues, etc. In some states, an approved lake management plan is a pre-requisite for grant funding from a natural resources agency.

Step 4: Identify the problems. Assume that everyone’s perception of a problem has merit. When a problem is identified, you should also look at its impact, location and timing, as well as known contributing factors.

Step 5: Prioritize the problems. Recognizing that perhaps all problems can’t be tackled at once, prioritize the problems.

Step 6: Look for actions and goals related to the prioritized issues. For example, a GOAL might be to reduce shoreline erosion. Some ACTIONS could include inventorying erosion sites, planting native vegetation, designing/ installing other shore protection methods, or diverting flows away from a particularly eroded area.

Step 7: Chose site-specific goals and strategies that address those goals. There may be several ways to address a problem, but success usually comes from the most site-specific actions and problem-specific actions being performed. For example, if there are several types of invasives in a lake, there may be particular methods that are best for one type of invasive, but don’t necessarily affect the others. More than one action might be required, each targeted to a particular problem.

Step 8: Estimate the economic costs. This is a good time to be aware of grants or other funding that may be available.

Step 9: Determine a timetable for the actions and goals, as well as how control actions will be measured. This should allow efforts and activities to be coordinated, especially in the instance of seasonal actions, such as fish stocking or chemical treatment of invasive plants.

Step 10: Determine leadership & fiscal responsibility. No one person can carry out all the activities usually in a lake management plan. Dividing responsibilities, while having accountability, will increase chances of success.

Step 11: Set methods & times for suggesting changes and modifying the plan as needed. Setting up a regular time for review (annual, bi-annual, etc), as well as methods by which suggestions for change are made, will help insure that results get reviewed in a timely manner.

There are several examples of lake management plans available on the internet. The following websites give more detail instructions on writing lake management plans: