Transform Hard Surfaces into Lake-Friendly Spaces

When it rains on your property, you probably notice that water soaks into some surfaces and forms puddles on others. Surfaces that water does not soak into are called impervious surfaces. When water runs across these surfaces, it picks up pollutants such as sediment, phosphorus, salt, heavy metals, oil, or gas. This polluted water can end up in our lakes, causing harm to people, animals, and plants, and promoting 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 would pool at the bottom of this sloped driveway. With little vegetation in place, it had nowhere to go but down the hill to the lake.
After: The homeowner planted trees at the bottom of the driveway where the overflow parking was. This created a vegetated buffer to collect and clean up water coming down the driveway before it flows toward 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 growing around impervious surfaces help reduce and soak up runoff water. Tall vegetation with a canopy, like trees, 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 extensive root systems, providing shade and stabilized soils for your property. 
    • Plant a vegetated swale along impervious surfaces (see photo below). 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. Beds of crushed stone have many air pockets, allowing water to seep slowly into the ground. Some crushed stone examples are:

Decrease the area of impervious surface on your property. Assess what hard surfaces you have on your property and how they function for you. Read on to the next section to identify ways to reduce these hard surfaces.

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 or thick, chunky mulch (sometimes known as erosion control mulch)
    • Be careful not to use these too close to our lakes, rivers, and streams as heavy rains can wash them into the lake.
  • 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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