Ameren warns property owners not to dump leaves into lake
Spring is here and along with it comes the inevitable yard clean up and that can mean piles of leaves leftover from the fall. For those tidying up for spring, leaves can be a challenge.
If not handled properly, spring cleanups can pose a hazard to the ecosystem of Lake of the Ozarks. Lakefront property owners need to be aware that dumping leaves in the lake is not only a nuisance to others, it can cause problems for the fish population and is a violation of state law.
Some communities have leaf pickup programs. For those that don’t, property owners have a few options. Some let nature take its course and leave the leaves to naturally decompose, others rake leaves into pesky piles for the kids, grandkids or pets to use as a playground.
What is not supposed to happen is for the leaves to end up in the lake or be burned along the shoreline creating an acidic residue that will be washed into the lake.
In general, Ameren discourages raking or depositing anything in the lake, including leaves.The leaves rot creating rotted deposits on the lake bottom, including coves.
Over time, this creates unwanted fill in the lake. In addition, some of the leaves stay in suspension and travel to the dam getting stuck in the fish barrier net just upstream of the dam, according to Ameren officials.
Burning leaves on the lake bottom is also discouraged because burned leaves are acidic and damage water quality. Water quality is key to protecting the beauty of the lake, keeping fish healthy and maintaining tourism and fishing related industries.
Disposing of leaves above the waterline is a tremendous step in protecting water quality, according to Ameren officials and the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance.
It is also a violation of the Missouri Clean Water Law (Section 644.051.1(1)) for commercial or industrial businesses to dispose of leaves by placing them into the Lake of the Ozarks. That section of the law also states that it is unlawful for any person to cause pollution to any waters of the state to place any water contaminate in a location where it is reasonably certain to cause pollution to waters of the state.
While leaves naturally fall into the lake, and under normal conditions do not cause water pollution, abnormally large amounts of leaves being blown or placed in a cove can produce anoxic conditions as they decompose.
Fish need gravel substrate in these shallow water environments for spawning. The lack of oxygen and accumulation of leaves does not provide a beneficial environment. Ameren also gets questions about burning leaves on the shore when the water level is down.
Spring rains are stressful on the lake ecosystem, according to Ameren officials.
Over the winter pollutants such as road salt, fertilizer, animal waste and other items will get washed into the lake during the first hard rainfall event.
Removing the chance of additional pollutants such as ash from burn piles is one to protect the lake water quality.
Ameren prefers that residents burn leaves above the eroded bank. That way if the ash does wash downhill it can be captured or filtered by vegetation or soil before flowing into the lake. Leaves can also be composted or mulched.
The Department of Natural Resources notes that leaves in the lake produce high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which can cause algae blooms, fast-growing algae events.
Missouri law also bans leaves from landfills in order to reduce the amount of space used in landfills. Leaves and other yard waste should be properly disposed of at a compost facility.
An environmentally sound and inexpensive way to dispose of the leaves is composting. Composting takes no more effort than bagging the leaves and finding a corner in the yard to place them. The best part of composting leaves is that the property owner will have the perfect material for mulching plants or bedding material. Mulching with the leaf compost adds nutrients back into the ground that was taken out. Property owners can also add kitchen waste, (no meat or bones), to make the compost more nutrient-rich.
Another alternative for removing leaves is to hire a company to dispose of them.
Leaf burning is allowed in most communities, but should be done in accordance with local regulations.
What to know:
1. Decaying leaf litter releases nutrients in the water. These nutrients can cause algae blooms that are harmful to fish, pets and humans.
2. Decomposing leaves use oxygen needed by fish.
3. Once the oxygen is used, anaerobic processes start, causing a rotten egg smell.
4. Leaves block sunlight needed for microbes, fish and aquatic plants.
5. It is unpleasant to swim in water full of leaf litter.
6. Leaves on the water surface make it harder to fish.
7. Leaves can be composted and used for gardens.
8. Chopped-up leaves can be used as mulch for your yard.
9. Leaves deposited in the lake migrate downstream, and eventually get trapped in the fishnet at Bagnell dam. 10. Leaves collect at the back of coves, trapping sediment and make these areas shallower.
Information provided by Ameren Missouri.