Author: Erin Mastine

Transform Hard Surfaces into Lake-Friendly Spaces

When it rains on your property, you probably notice that water soaks into some surfaces but forms puddles on others. Surfaces that water does not soak into are called impervious surfaces. When water runs across these, it picks up pollutants such as sediment, phosphorus, salt, heavy metals, oil, or gas. This polluted water can end up in our lakes, cause harm to people, animals, and plants, and promote excessive plant and cyanobacteria growth.

Your property may have many impervious surfaces, such as roads, driveways, parking areas, roofs, or walking paths. Fortunately, there are simple ways to make these areas more lake-friendly!

Before: Polluted runoff water used to pool at the bottom of this sloped driveway. With no vegetation in place, it had nowhere to go but the lake!
After: The homeowner planted trees at the bottom of the driveway where the overflow parking used to be. This creates a buffer to collect and filter water coming down the driveway before it enters the lake.

Promote Infiltration

While infiltration is a big word, it’s a simple process! Infiltration is the action of water seeping into the ground instead of accumulating or running off of your hard surfaces.

Here are some ways you can promote infiltration on and around your property:

Vegetation is key! Trees, shrubs, and other vegetation over and around impervious surfaces help reduce and soak up runoff water. Tall vegetation also helps shade your property and cools down runoff water. Warm water can harm aquatic wildlife and alter water chemistry.

  • Encourage mature trees for their leafy canopy and root systems.
  • Plant a vegetated swale along impervious surfaces. Vegetated swales are vegetation-filled channels where water can soak into the ground.
  • Let the grass grow longer in overflow parking areas and other areas of your property. Longer grass has longer roots to stabilize the soil and filter pollutants.

Create infiltration areas using crushed stone. Crushed stone has many air pockets, allowing water to seep slowly into the ground. Some crushed stone examples are:

  • Dry wells—a gravel-filled basin that collects and infiltrates water
  • Driveway infiltration trenches—gravel-filled trenches that run along the sides of driveways, parking areas, and even footpaths

Decrease the number of impervious surfaces. Try to have fewer impervious surfaces to prevent unnecessary soil compaction. Compacted soils do not soak up rainwater well, making it difficult for plants to grow. 

Consider planting vegetation on unused dirt parking areas to stabilize the soil and prevent runoff. You can either tear up unused paved surfaces or leave them to deteriorate naturally.

Choose Porous Surfaces And Stabilize Dirt Surfaces

Porous surfaces have tiny holes (pores) that allow water to soak into the ground instead of running off the surface and collecting pollutants.

Consider constructing your surfaces with the following materials:

Some dirt surfaces, like pathways and the occasional overflow parking spot, are susceptible to erosion from wind, rain, foot traffic, and vehicles. Stabilize these dirt surfaces by covering them with materials such as:

  • Raw woodchips
  • Thick, chunky mulch (sometimes known as erosion control mulch)
  • Crushed stone 

Divert and Slow Down Runoff Water

Divert water off surfaces to an area where it can soak into the ground. 

  • Add curves to footpaths. Straight footpaths can funnel runoff water and pollutants directly into lakes. Adding curves to footpaths slows the water down and allows it to soak into the ground.
  • Install an open-top culvert. Open-top culverts are boxed-out rectangles with an open top that can be driven over. Water is collected inside the culvert and then diverted to an area where it can infiltrate
  • Use rubber razors on unpaved roads that do not get plowed. You can make rubber razors by placing an old conveyor belt between two wood slabs. Bury these in the ground so the top lip sticks out and diverts runoff water. 
  • Build water bars to use on paths and trails. Make your own water bars using timber or logs, rebar, and stone or mulch.
  • Make a firehose diverter out of retired firehose and gravel. You can move and drive over firehose diverters, but they are temporary solutions.

What More Can You Do?

Curious about how to make your impervious surfaces more lake-friendly? The LakeSmart Program can help! Learn more and start your lake-friendly living journey at

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