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Minimizing runoff from shoreland property

Runoff negatively affects water quality

When an area is developed or altered, the way water flows is also changed. As land surfaces are covered with impervious surfaces (roads, driveways, roofs, etc.) less water can seep into the soil, so runoff increases. This increased runoff is usually channeled into ditches, drainageways, storm sewers or road gutters and often ends up in nearby lakes and streams.

High flows of water can cause flooding or erosion, as well as increasing sediment in streams and lakes. Fine sediment can also transport nutrients such as nitrate or phosphorus, and pollutants such as sands or salts from icy roads. All of these processes have an adverse effect on water quality.

Preventing runoff

Planning ahead is the first step (and most important) in preventing or minimizing erosion due to runoff. An easy way to do this is to pretend that you are a raindrop. In looking at the landscape or any impervious surfaces, which route would you travel? Obviously, you would want to take the easiest path downhill. Keeping that in mind, note any areas that runoff would choose to travel.

Evaluate your property before you begin your landscape design. Consider slope, soil type and existing vegetation as you plan your development.

Problems caused by runoff and possible causes

  • Water near shore is cloudy: from excess sediment reaching water.
  • Oily rainbow film on the water: from possible petroleum contamination.
  • Algae blooms, green scum or abundant plant growth in the water: from excess nutrients such as nitrate or phosphorus reaching the water.
  • Washouts, trenches, small piles of sediment, leaves or debris at the bottom of slopes: from excessive runoff across the property.

Long-term best management practices

Follow these practices to minimize runoff and prevent erosion:

  • Limit paved and covered areas that prevent water from seeping into the ground.
  • Invest in permanent stabilization practices for long-term protection of your shoreland property. These include planting new vegetation, installing erosion control structures and diverting drainage.
  • Retain trees and shrubs. Trees provide a natural umbrella by shedding water and can reduce runoff by as much as 50%.
  • Plan and complete an annual maintenance schedule to make sure that your runoff and erosion control plan is working to protect your property.
  • Limit clearing and grading on slopes. Minimize cutting and filling for roads, sidewalks and footpaths to reduce erosion and still provide access.
  • Avoid damaging adjacent property with temporary erosion control methods. Water does not stop flowing at your property line.


Most zoning ordinances restrict the amount of impermeable surface allowed in the shoreland area. Check with your local zoning officials for more information.

  • Alteration or filling of wetlands is strictly regulated. Check with your county Soil and Water Conservation District before beginning any projects that impacts wetlands.
  • For any development along waterways or lakeshores, contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Waters for any necessary permits.
Remember: It's Minnesota law to call 811 before you dig.

Reviewed in 2018

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