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Did you know that surface runoff, resulting from development during rain storms and snowmelt, is the single largest contributor to water quality degradation in Massachusetts?  It is estimated that 80-90% of phosphorus reaches waterways adhered to sediment particles, loosened from the soil and traveling in surface runoff.  Phosphorus is a major nutrient feeding aquatic vegetation and algae blooms in Stockbridge Bowl.

The bad news is that increased levels of phosphorus follow residential development.  One study in Maine found that even careful development of woodland into two-acre house lots caused a 2- to 10-fold increase in phosphorus concentrations in surface runoff.  In a recent survey of Stockbridge Bowl residents, 38% reported having exposed soils on their property and 44% reported that runoff from their property or driveway entered the lake or stream.

The good news is that we can reverse this trend by looking at our properties in a different way.  Each of us can reduce the level of runoff from our properties into Stockbridge Bowl by looking at our land, identifying runoff patterns and taking a few simple steps to remedy those patterns.  The health of Stockbridge Bowl is in our hands.  We are all Part of the Problem – Together we can be the Solution!

The pre-colonial natural landscape for the Berkshires was almost completely forested, with open lakes and marshes creating breaks in the tree canopy. Native Americans moved across the region, following the seasons and clearing small areas for temporary villages. The open patches they left behind transitioned into areas dominated by grasses and ferns before returning once more to forest.

When rain falls to the ground in a naturally forest area, as much as 50% of it percolates into the ground, 40% re-enters the atmosphere and 10% flows overland as surface runoff. The tree canopy intercepts the raindrops, while the vegetation and leaf litter on the forest floor acts like a sponge, soaking up the water. When the rainwater percolates into the soil, the vegetation, soil and microorganisms absorb and filter out most of the pollutants that are traveling in surface runoff.

When we remove the forest for development we disturb the soil and leaf litter, and build impervious surface areas such as roads, building rooftops, driveways and patios. In addition, lawns act as semi-impervious surface areas because we graded and compacted the soil during construction of our homes and we reinforce the compaction each time we run our lawnmowers over it. As a result of our actions, percolation of rain and snow is reduced and surface runoff is increased — and the faster water flows across the land the greater its capacity to carry sediment and pollution. Creating as little as 10-20% impervious surface area on a residential property can double the rate of runoff from the site.

Surface runoff, resulting from development during rain storms and snowmelt, is the single largest contributor to water quality degradation in Massachusetts. Increased surface runoff is a problem in that it alters the hydrologic cycle within the watershed of the lake, causing higher peak storm flows in the tributaries and leading to increased sediment deposition in the lake. It is estimated that 80-90% of phosphorus reaches waterways adhered to sediment particles, loosened from the soil and traveling in runoff.

Sediment and Phosphorus are Linked

Phosphorus is a nutrient that is normally found in the natural environment, including lakes. Phosphorus is typically described as the limiting nutrient for fresh water bodies in the Northeast, including the Berkshires. This means that the amount of phosphorus within the lake directly affects the productivity of the lake and the ability for plants and algae to flourish, just like adding fertilizer to a lawn or garden. The long-term phosphorus budget for the lake indicates that the major phosphorus inputs are these: 56% is from land clearing and development and 41% is from in-lake sediments (Diagnostic/Feasibility Study for Stockbridge Bowl, 1991).

The Bad News is that runoff from cleared and developed land contains much higher amounts of phosphorus than runoff from undeveloped forests. One recent study in Maine found that even careful development of forest into two-acre house lots caused a 2-10 fold increase in phosphorus concentrations in stormwater runoff. Residential properties can contribute roughly .5 – 1 pounds of phosphorus per acre to a receiving waterway each year! Less than 2 ounces of fertilizer washed into the lake can grow more than 2 pounds of algae. The Good News is that if we all work together and make small adjustments on our properties, we can reduce the amount of surface runoff and phosphorus that enters our lake.

What you can do on your property

  • Stockbridge Bowl Landscape – Ideas from Stockbridge Bowl properties.
  • Mass. Buffer Manual – For waterfront property owners. Filled with practical landscaping tips.
  •  Score your Shore  – A fantastic assessment tool by the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources to help landowners score the ecological value of their shoreline and property. The land of a Thousand Lakes offers shoreline information and great practical tips.
  • Project Native Landscape Restoration – Local nursery; very knowledgeable about native plants.
Create a map of your property, drawing impervious surface areas that might generate runoff, existing vegetation and known drainage patterns. Next, get your rain gear out and study your property during a good hard rainstorm. We suggest you start at the lowest part of your property and work your way up. What are the flow patterns down your property? Does runoff flow towards the lake? Towards a stream or ditch? Does the stream or ditch flow to the lake? Trace surface flow on your map.

Direct surface runoff to vegetated areas. Try to spread runoff so that it flows through your yard in a sheet flow pattern rather than a channel. This will give the vegetation time to slow down the runoff, filter out sediment and promote infiltration through the soil.


1. Fertilizer Use: Don’t Feed Aquatic Weeds

Fertilizer is a “growing” problem for lakes, rivers, and streams, especially if it’s not used carefully. If you use too much fertilizer or apply it at the wrong time, it can easily wash off your lawn or garden into Stockbridge Bowl. Just like in your garden, fertilizer in lakes and streams makes plants grow. In water bodies, extra fertilizer can mean extra algae and aquatic plant growth. Too much algae causes water quality problems and makes boating, fishing, and swimming unpleasant. As algae decay, it uses up oxygen in the water that fish and other wildlife need.


  • Don’t Guess – Soil Test. Have your soil tested to find the right does and type to match plant needs – you may find that you do not need to fertilize at all. A standard soil test typically costs $10 or so. (Call the UMass Extension Soil Testing Lab at 413-545-2311 or download a soil test order form at
  • More in NOT better — use fertilizer sparingly. Many plants don’t need as much fertilizer or need it as often as you might think. Too much can actually harm or burn them.
  • Don’t feed the lake’s weeds – use slow-release low- or no-phosphorus fertilizers. Keep fertilizers out of runoff pathways and don’t fertilize if there’s a chance for a heavy rain.

2. Vegetate Exposed Soils

Plant grass, ferns or other ground cover on bare and eroded areas to hold soil in place. If you feel you need help from a nursery, take photos of your site to help the professional staff understand your conditions. Here are a few tips:

  • Shady areas can be tough to revegetate. Visit a darkly forested area near you to see what vegetation is under the forest canopy. Are there ferns or other plants surviving? If you need help, consult the nursery or a landscaper. Project Native in Great Barrington is a good source for native plants.
  • Steeply Sloped areas may need to be stabilized to help plants establish. Erosion controls may be needed to keep runoff from washing seeds and young plants downslope. Choose a fast-growing grass cover type, such as a conservation mix of grass and clover, to cover an area quickly. Consult the nursery or landscaper for fast-growing shrubs and trees that might work for you.
  • Driveways can be a sediment source. If your driveway drains into the lake or into a drainage area to the lake, consider installing a series of water bars. Direct the runoff to infiltration trenches of stone to capture sediment. Consider replacing the gravel driveway with lattice pavers that allow some rainwater to soak in between the grassed blocks,while maintain a strong surface for vehicles.

3. Shoreline Buffers

Vegetation along the shoreline provides that last chance to capture sediment or phosphorus traveling in runoff, physically impeding surface flow and helping to filter out pollutants. Forested areas can absorb 15 times more rainfall than grass or turf. The deeper roots of shrubs and trees also capture phosphorus traveling underground in saturated soils. Deep roots also hold shoreline soils in place, reducing erosion potential.

  • Populate that shoreline buffer with shrubs that flower or fruit. Tell your landscaper or nursery to help you choose native shrubs that will flower at different times of the year for a changing palette of color. These will also be more likely to attract birds and butterflies.
  • If using compost or mulch, do so lightly and in a manner that keeps it from washing into the lake or nearby stream. These can be sources of phosphorus
  • Bonus: tall vegetation will also deter geese from coming onto your lawn to feed. Geese like the comfort of having a clear view and pathway to the water to be able to quickly escape predators. This is especially true of geese that have flightless goslings. So, block their view with shrubs, tall grasses or flowers
  • To learn more about how shoreline buffers work and tips on landscaping, refer to the very user-friendly Massachusetts Buffer Manual.


4. Reduce Impervious Surface Areas

Creating as little as 10-20% impervious surface area on a residential property can double the rate of runoff from the site, and with runoff comes sediment and phosphorus. Consider replacing impervious blacktop or concrete driveways and patios with pervious techniques such as grass or stones, flat stones or lattice pavers that allow some rainwater to soak in between the blocks.

  • Got a paved or gravel boat launch site down to the lake? Consider replacing it with grass – you probably only use it once or twice a year, so the grass will survive just fine. Alternately consider grass “pavers”, which are honey-combed grids filled with a sand/soil mix and planted with grass. The result is a stable grassed surface for cars that allows percolation of runoff.
  • When replacing impervious surface areas on steep slope, design it carefully so that runoff does erode and wash materials such as gravel or stone downhill into the lake.
  • Where paved areas remain, create berms or plant vegetation to capture runoff.

5. Lawn Care – mow high & let clippings lie

As turf experts will readily tell you, keep your grass 2.5” to 3” tall to promote deeper root growth and denser thatch. The taller, denser lawn will be able to withstand heavy stormwater flows and filter out sediment within those flows. It’s a myth that you’ll have to mow more often if you leave the grass 3” high – you will be able to stick to the same mowing schedule once you start this new regime. Surprisingly even some professional landscapers will mow too low, so keep any eye on your lawn company.

  • Taller, denser grass helps to shade out some weeds and increase endurance during hot, dry spells.
  • Leaving the clippings on the lawn returns nutrients (such as nitrogen for green leafy color) back into the soil for uptake and more growth. Grass brakes down into its nutrient elements quickly, so keep clippings out of the lake to avoid infusion of unwanted nutrients.
  • Consider aerating your lawn every few years, especially areas were the soil has become compacted. Aerated soils allow better percolation of water and air down to grass roots and soil organisms, where nutrients traveling in runoff can be absorbed.

6. Rain Barrels

Roof runoff is typically discharged at one or two key points around the home, and the force often creates ditches or gullies in the lawn. If traveling across driveways or fertilized areas, the runoff can carry pollutants to the lake or nearby stream or drainage ditch. Capture roof runoff in a mosquito-proof rain barrel. The water can be used to irrigate your lawn or plantings on a dry day.

7. Septic Systems – Check it, Fix it, Maintain it

When your home septic system fails, remember…it doesn’t just fail at home.

A recent survey of property owners showed that many people are unsure of when they last had their septic tank pumped or are unaware of where their leach field is located. Many admit that they pump their tank only when it acts up. If septic systems fail and overflow, surface runoff can carry untreated bacteria, viruses, phosphorus, medicines and other pollutants from your yard to the lake, threatening your family’s and the public’s health. Severe overflows can cause beach closures.

  • Get regular inspections and maintenance. If you’ve never inspected your system, start inspecting once a year until you can establish a routine. Choose a date or time of the year for inspection that’s easy to remember and mark it on your calendar.
  • Do not send pet waste, medications, grease or toxic chemicals into your system. Use your garbage disposal sparingly – those solids are often hard to break down.
  • Watch for cues that your tank is nearing capacity or your system is failing. Got odors? Get someone out to check it right away. Then fix it, if needed.
  • Conserve water. Too much can cause solids to escape your tank and plug your drainfield
  • US EPA’s SepticSmart.  Learn more about how your septic system works and simple, everyday tips on how to properly maintain it.

8. Car Washing: Phosphorus load

Most car soap contains high amounts of phosphates, a key ingredient spurring aquatic weed growth. Rinsed water running off the car can also contain petrochemicals (gas, oil, grease), solvents, coolants and heavy metals (breaks) The average driveway car wash uses a total of 116 gallons of water, some of which can easily find its way to the lake or a drainage ditch leading to the lake.

  • Wash your car on a grassy area that does not drain into the lake so that the ground can filter the water naturally.
  • Use soap sparingly. Don’t poor the leftover soapy water in an area where it can flow into the lake – it’s best to pour it down the sink when you’re done.
  • Use a hose nozzle with a trigger to save water and create less runoff.
  • Take your car to a commercial car wash. Most commercial car washes use 60 percent less water in the entire washing process than a simple home wash uses just to rinse off a car. Also, car washes in Massachusetts are required to treat their used water.

9. Animal Waste – Scoop the Poop, Bag it, Trash it

When your pet goes on the lawn, remember … it doesn’t just go on the lawn. Bag it & trash it.

When our pets leave those little surprises, rain can wash it and bacteria into the lake. The average dog dropping produces 3 billion fecal coliform bacteria. Aside from the health issue, pet and animal waste, like our septic system waste, is also a source of phosphorus. If geese are a problem on your property, consider planting a vegetated buffer along your shoreline to deter them.


Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act

The Massachusetts Wetland Protections Act regulates any activity that involves filling, excavating, or otherwise altering the ecological functions of wetland resource areas, including wetland, streams and lakes. Land use activities that have the potential to impact the functions of wetland resources or are within buffer zones (100 feet of banks or bordering vegetated wetlands) or within the 200-foot riverfront area can only be conducted with permission granted under a wetlands permit, issued by the Stockbridge Conservation Commission. Typical land use activities are those that create permanent buildings or structures, disturb significant amounts of soil or remove significant amounts of natural vegetation. Some waterfront activities are notably exempt from the WPA, such as creating a small pathway from the house to the lake, pruning trees for a vista of the lake, installing a fence (as long as allows small animals to pass underneath or through it), and planting native trees, shrubs and ground cover.

Stockbridge Zoning Bylaws – link to town website

The Lake and Pond Overlay District. In addition to the WPA, the Town of Stockbridge regulates certain land use activities that occur within specific overlay districts. Stockbridge Bowl is one of five lakes that are located within the town’s Lake and Pond Overlay District zoning district, governing land use activities along the lakefront area 150 feet back from the high water mark. This is 50 feet beyond the state’s buffer zone.

Most land use activities require a special permit, including:

  • New non-exempt structures or alteration of existing structures (does not include maintenance or repair of existing)
  • Roads and driveways
  • Non-exempt removal of vegetation (does not include removal of dead or dying trees & vegetation, pruning of vegetation, gardening that does not involve removal of shrubs or trees)
  • Excavation and removal of soil or subsoil
  • Stormwater prevention, mitigation or drainage

Activities are expressly prohibited within this area are:

  • Applications of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides
  • Storage or dumping of waste, junk or refuse
  • The relocation of watercourses and removal of soils and subsoils

The bylaw goes on to state that vegetation within 35 feet of the high water mark shall be maintained as an undisturbed natural buffer strip. The general exception to this standard allows for the creation of a contiguous clear-cut opening in the buffer strip for lake access, provided it does not exceed 20% percent of the frontage along the water, and not exceeding 35 feet on any individual lot. The cut should be angled across the lot so as to allow for a view and access, but to reduce runoff. Exceptions to this standard may be made with a special application to the Planning Board, with consultation of the Conservation Commission.Driveways and parking areas within the 150’ zone must be constructed of permeable material.

Approach the Housatonic Valley Association to see if they would conduct stormwater monitoring at a few select tributary streams and drainage channels to determine sediment, nutrient and bacterial loading. Streams that should be considered are Shadow Brook, Lily Brook and the unnamed streams in the northern portion of the lake.
Work with landowners to minimize runoff from their properties into the lake:
  • Hold Rainy Day Survey workshops. First hold a workshop to train landowners how to survey their properties and identify areas of erosion and other potential runoff problems. This workshop could provide instructions and a site plan and survey form to fill out. Hold a second workshop where landowners can bring their completed Rainy Day Surveys and have professional landscaping consultants provide ideas on ways to solve the problems landowners have discovered.
  • Conduct a “lakescaping” program that informs property owners about techniques such as shoreline vegetated buffers, rain barrels, vegetated swales, rain gardens, infiltration trenches, pervious pavement.
  • Conduct a Rain Barrel Blitz, whereby a large number of rain barrels are purchased at a bulk rate and distributed to interested landowners. Focus first on distributing the barrels to densely developed areas.
  • Promote the planting of shoreline vegetation. Educate landowners about the importance of shoreline vegetation by holding a workshop and suggest they refer to the Massachusetts Buffer Manual. Provide copies of the manual to each member association of the SBA. Refer to examples of lakefront buffers found in Appendix B.
  • If the Rain Barrel Blitz is successful, consider offering a Buffer Bonanza, to purchase a larger amount of vegetation at a bulk rate price. Consider offering the installation of the plants as part of the program to make it easier for landowners who are not capable of doing it themselves.
  • Track and promote success stories by highlighting lakescaping projects in the SBA newsletter and on its website. Consider holding contests and giving prizes for the best improvements.
Develop a brochure that reminds landowners of town policies, bylaws and other regulations governing use of their land within 150’ of the lake shore, such as restrictions on the removal of shoreline vegetation, the application of fertilizers and pesticides. The brochure also describes the process for importation of new beach sand. The Town could send this brochure would be set in annual tax bills. The notices should include the procedures for replenishing beach sand.
Conduct pilot studies at several sand beach sites whereby runoff controls (e.g. silt fence, sediment rolls, etc.) are installed along the high water line in the fall to capture eroding sand over the winter and spring melt. Sites where beach erosion is severe should be prioritized. The Conservation Commission could require installation of runoff controls as a condition of allowing landowners of steeply sloped sites to import new sand to replenish their beaches.
Consider joining the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts (LAPA-West) to avail itself of the educational opportunities that LAPA-West offers. This includes the opportunity to network with neighboring lake groups and learn from their experiences, and to stay apprised of events and educational offerings.

Additional Important Information

Native Trees, Shrubs, and Groundcovers For Riparian Buffers

Shoreline Buffers and the Health of Your Lake

Tips For A Rouge-Friendly Landscape

Lakes and Ponds Management