people paddle boarding on open water

In the heat of summer, many of us rely on our rivers, lakes, and streams as a source of fun recreational activities and of course, refreshing, cool drinking water. This month’s installment of the Best Practices for Source Water Protection will discuss best practices for shoreline residents and/or cottagers, who play a significant role in protecting the health of our downstream drinking water sources.

If you’re new to owning or renting a shoreline property/cottage, or maybe just need a refresher, it’s important to remember that drinking water from a surface water source is transported through a pipe directly from the lake, river, or stream. The entry point of your water supply is called the intake. The activities that occur around your intake can impact the drinking water quality, both within the lake and downstream.

What follows are a few key Best Practices you can utilize to protect the quality and quantity of our shared water sources at your shoreline home or cottage: 

  • Using biodegradable soaps when you wash yourself, your dishes, your clothes, or your boat. And never wash in a lake, river, or stream. All soap negatively affects lake chemistry and can have an adverse impact on fish and other aquatic organisms.
  • Keep boat motors properly maintained or upgrade to a more efficient motor if possible.
  • Take care when refueling boats, lawnmowers, or other machinery when you are near or on the water by using extended spouts or funnels.
  • Ensure your septic system is pumped and inspected every three years and upgraded when needed. Excessive effluent and leakage from septic systems releases phosphorous, which encourages excessive aquatic vegetative growth and algae blooms if it reaches a waterway.

In addition to managing the activities occurring near your intake, protection from runoff and erosion are critical to safeguarding the water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams. Runoff occurs when rainwater or melting snow flows over the land. As water flows, it picks up contaminates such as fertilizers, pesticides and bacteria from pet waste and sediments that can pollute our drinking water sources and pose risk to our health.

Erosion is the loss of soil from the land through natural events such as wind and runoff. Erosion does occur naturally, but it can happen faster if no erosion control measures (listed below) are in place. While the most obvious drinking water sources to be affected by runoff and erosion are surface water sources such as lakes, rivers and streams, groundwater can also be negatively affected by runoff and erosion.

There are things you can do to reduce potentially harmful runoff or erosion and keep contaminants from entering the waterway, such as:

  • Clean pet waste in your yard. When animal feces enters a waterway, it promotes the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
  • Create a ‘no-mow’ zone or a buffer zone along the shoreline covered with native plants. Planted shoreline buffers help to absorb and trap pollutants before they enter the waterway.
  • Always launch your boat at a designated boat ramp (such as those provided by Cataraqui Conservation or the local municipality). Backing up a vehicle on a riverbank, or lakeshore can cause damage from its weight and tires and leads to erosion.
  • Reduce your use of chemicals on your property such as oils, gasoline, pesticides, and herbicides.

Everyone has a role to play to keep our lakes, rivers, and streams healthy and plentiful. To learn more about what you can do around your shoreline home or cottage please visit:

Best practices for source water protection |

 Lake Protection Workbook

Lake Ontario shoreline