Build a better boathouse

Consider your impact on the shoreline when you build a nautical garage

By Don Ross

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Some municipalities, while tempted by increasing the lucrative tax base, realize that bodies of water can handle only a finite investment of cottagers’ capital before they become loved to death. Nutrient loads from lawns, gardens, golf courses and septic systems–particularly where the filter and buffer of shoreline vegetation is removed–quickly age lakes and rivers with rampant growth of algae and aquatic plants. In this context, it’s no surprise that building permits can be hard to secure.

“Shorelines are often called the ribbon of life,” Smith says. He explains that the vast majority of animal life in any region depends upon places where land meets water. Wildlife needs shoreline for habitat, food, water, protection, breeding and spawning. Loss or degradation of the shoreline both below and above the water’s edge directly impacts the ecology of the watershed. “Our guiding principle,” Smith says, “is no net loss of habitat, to keep the productive capacity of the area.”

Smith explains that what may seem to be a hefty layer of regulation for either renovations or new construction is simply a safeguard against undue damage to fragile ecosystems.

Low-impact designing

The design of any waterfront and in-water structure is a critical part of the review and approval process. Keeping environmental impact to a minimum is key.

It’s a violation of the Fisheries Act to remove stumps, logs, fallen trees and rocks from the water. All of these are shelter, forage areas and refuge for fish and other aquatic organisms. Keeping in place the native shoreline vegetation is also important, as it stabilizes the area and filters sediment and nutrients that would otherwise smother bottom-dwelling organisms, which could trigger excessive algae growth.

Proper planning

Smith emphasizes that a responsible attitude to building at the waterfront is to everyone’s benefit, for the quality of the water, the quality of experience and even the quality of the local economy. He suggests that there are subtle and easy ways for property owners to contribute positively to these qualities and go so far as to improve habitat. “Put a small shoal under your dock,” he says, “with a pile of rocks for refuge. This feature will also break waves to protect the shore and provide a place for the kids to see fish up close. Branches or an old Christmas tree sunk under the dock or along the shore enhance habitat, too.”

Your shoreline is, as he says, part of the ribbon of life.

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