National Lakes Assessment

From My Lake to All Lakes: EPA’s National Lake Assessment

By Sarah Lehmann

As I do every year, this summer I spent my vacation on my favorite lake – Rainy Lake.  Rainy is a 228,000-acre lake harboring more than 2,200 islands; it straddles the U.S./Canada border between Minnesota and Ontario.  For me, it’s a place for family and friends to get together and fish, swim, watch wildlife, pick wild blueberries and generally relax without the buzz of cell phones, email, or internet.

This year we had an especially large gathering of family and friends.  We all enjoyed fishing for walleye, northern pike and small mouth bass — and then eating our fresh catch within hours; jumping off “High Rock” into the lake below; seeing bald eagles fly overhead; and hearing the haunting sounds of loons call in the evening.

Unfortunately, according to EPA’s recently published National Lakes Assessment, four out of ten lakes in the U.S. suffer from nutrient pollution.  Excess levels of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen from sources such as fertilizer, stormwater runoff, wastewater and even airborne industrial discharges can cause drops in dissolved oxygen and harmful algal blooms. These conditions pose a threat to fish and wildlife, as well as human health. The assessment also finds an association between excess nutrient levels and degraded communities of biological organisms such as the small aquatic insects that are an important part of the lake food chain.

Here at EPA, we are working with our federal, state and local partners to reduce nutrient pollution through a mix of regulatory and voluntary programs.  Just a few of these actions include working with states to identify waters impacted by nutrient pollution and develop plans to restore waters by limiting nutrient inputs; supporting efforts by landowners to adopt stream and shoreline buffers that slow erosion and protect waters from nutrient overload; and providing funding for the construction and upgrading of municipal wastewater facilities.

My grandparents purchased this rustic Rainy Lake getaway for my family more than 40 years ago.  I know that our ability to enjoy this amazing gift – and to pass it down in the same condition to future generations – depends on maintaining the lake’s clean water and healthy, natural shorelines.  The National Lakes Assessment provides information we can use to protect and restore all the Rainy Lakes around the country that are so precious to us all.  To learn more, please visit the National Lakes Assessment website including our innovative interactive dashboard to delve into additional findings and learn more about your conditions in your region.

About the author:  Sarah Lehmann works in the USEPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and is the team leader for the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS).  The recently released National Lakes Assessment  is the latest in the NARS series. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

July is Lakes Appreciation Month- Join in the Celebration!

One of my favorite vacations as a kid was visiting Lake Wallenpaupack, PA. Our family had a house near the lake and we would spend afternoons canoeing on the water, playing on the beach, and strolling around the lake. July is one of the best months to visit lakes. It’s also Lakes Appreciation Month, a time to celebrate our nation’s lakes and dedicate ourselves to protecting them.

Every July, the North American Lake Management Society, Kent State University, and EPA sponsor the annual Secchi Dip-In. Secchi disks have alternating black and white quadrants and are used to measure water transparency. The disks are lowered into the water until the black and white sections can no longer be seen. During the Secchi Dip-In trained volunteers gather data about the health of their lakes and contribute it to a national database. The information gathered from the Dip-In is important for scientists and communities to understand trends in the health of our nation’s lakes.

The National Lakes Assessment, completed in April 2010, is the first-ever study of the condition of the nation’s lakes conducted by EPA and state and tribal partners. In this report, you can read about the biological condition of lakes, the quality of lake shoreline habitat, and much more. EPA also hosted a free Watershed Academy Webcast on July 15th called “Healthy Lakeshores Through Better Shoreline Protection.” This Webcast featured a landscape ecologist and two state lakes specialists who discussed voluntary and regulatory approaches to lake shoreline protection. An archived version will be posted soon at www.epa.gov./watershedwebcasts.

As I have grown older and learned about the threats to our nation’s lakes, I value even more my memories of Lake Wallenpaupack. I realize now that all our individual actions—even ones seemingly small and insignificant—can add up to big problems. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working with EPA on a campaign to educate people about EPA’s National Lakes Assessment and ways to help protect and improve lake water quality.

We all have an important role in keeping our lakes healthy and clean so we can continue to enjoy them. Examples of things we can do include: planting riparian buffers along the shoreline, limiting use of fertilizers, and installing rain gardens to collect runoff. You can learn more by visiting EPA’s Clean Lakes page, downloading our new lakes widget, and following @EPAowow on Twitter.

About the author: Allison Gold is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Fellow in the Policy, Communications, and Resource Management Staff in the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watershed.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.