Clean Lake: 6 Tips to Reduce Phosphorus in Your Lake

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Duckweed Control

What could squeaky clean dishes and shockingly green lakes have in common?

Phosphorus!  Phosphorus has noteworthy connections to both dishwasher detergents and excessive algae growth.  In detergents, it binds with minerals, allowing for more effective washing.  Headlines in the 1960’s suggesting that Lake Erie was “dying” from choking on algae lead to studies that linked excess use of phosphorus by humans to greening lakes.  Many states banned phosphate laundry detergent.  Manufacturers voluntarily stopped adding phosphates to washer suds by the mid-1990’s.  But then, there’s dishwasher detergent.  Echoing the history of phosphate-free laundry detergent, states and communities are now starting to limit phosphates in dishwasher detergent.

Phosphorus can also finds its way into water bodies through a faulty septic system.  Failing systems may be contributing significant amounts of phosphorus to nearby lakes & ponds.

Phosphorus-containing fertilizer frequently does not stay where it's put.  After rain, runoff from fertilized land can deliver a whopping nutrient pulse to the nearest lake or stream.

In order to protect freshwater systems, follow these 6 tips:

1) Be sure that cleaning products and detergents are phosphorus –free.

2) Follow maintenance guidelines for your septic system.

3) Have your soils tested* and avoid phosphorus-contained fertilizer, unless your soil is clearly deficient.  Remember, that it takes very small concentrations of phosphorus to cause aquatic algae to thrive.

4) Phosphorus sticks to soil particles, so ensure that your property is well vegetated and no soil or nutrients are washed into your lake.

5) Plant shrubs, trees and grasses downhill from your septic system to act as a sponge (they will tie up excess nutrients and water, as well as prevent soil erosion).  Keep small trees and shrubs at least 10 feet away from your leach field and large trees at least 20 feet away.

*To locate soil-testing services near you, contact your local extension service.

6) Use a pond clarifier (Clear-Pond) to eliminate existing phosphorus from your pond.   Beneficial bacteria (AquaClear) will give algae control by reducing nutrients algae thrive on.

Please feel free to email me or post questions you may have and I will respond accordingly.

Cabin Life, Cabin Living May 2012 issue, Cindy Hagley and Sharon Moen, to read the entire article go to

Please feel free to email me or post questions you may have and I will respond accordingly.

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