The Five Pillars of Lake Ecosystem Restoration

Our ever increasing human footprint has been the cause of degrading water bodies for centuries. Alongside estuaries, rivers, wetlands and streams, which often garner more frequent media attention, inland lakes are not excluded from impaired waters of the U.S.

A multi-facetted whole systems approach can be applied to landscape-level restoration of lake ecosystems that have been impacted by anthropogenic actions.  The breakdown of the natural functional pathways and systems over time are highly integrated and the identified symptoms of the effects are often not predictive of the underlying problems. No single solution can resolve the matrix of broken functional pathways.  Restoration of a lake ecosystem requires treatment of the outward symptoms while repairing the integrated functionality of the system. The large scale of lake systems dictates that restoration focus on re-initiating the natural functionality of the system to recreate the self-sustaining and regenerative processes that can catalyze the system to “heal itself.”

Lake ecosystems may exhibit the symptoms of a functional “breakdown” caused by decades of anthropogenic activities. One of the most notable and outward signs of this degradation is prevalence of invasive species and toxic algal blooms that have plagued limnetic systems with increasing severity. This effect is an outward representation of the ecosystem’s inability to process and utilize the accumulated nutrients being contributed by its watershed. Coordination between multiple federal, state and local entities is required to assure that projects are synergistically prioritized to re-initiate regenerative natural processes in the ecosystem and maximize the effect of the funding available for these efforts to treat the underlying problems.

Any holistic approach to the restoration of lake ecosystems should be founded on five pillars:

Understanding Ecosystem Functional Processes
Develop a detailed understanding of the functional pathways within the system and the limiting factors within each. Identify key processes that influence dependent functionality and the contributory effect on the ecosystem.  Seek collaboration and concurrence with stakeholders in the process and establish focus on the stressors in the system.

Identification and Prioritization of Restoration Opportunities
Establish living documents identifying restoration opportunities in the system prioritized to treat the stressors impacting the critical functional processes, triage symptoms, and invoke changes within the system to promote sustainable use.

Coordination of Funding Mechanisms
Focus on funding by coordinating prioritized restoration opportunities with stakeholder priorities to maximize the effectiveness to the system as a whole on the basis of the funding partners (local, state, federal,  etc.)

Integration of Sustainable Processes
Identify and promote integrated sustainable business enterprises (renewable energy, fertilizer, etc.) and partnerships (public/private partnerships), community-owned enterprises or cooperatives within the system that capitalize on the base functional stressors or symptoms (i.e. nutrient loads, algae etc.) to allow and encourage sustainable economic revitalization and  investment in the local economy.

Public Outreach and Coordination
Inform and educate the public in concert with all stakeholder groups to elicit change and encourage stewardship.  Seek to gain ownership of the watershed and its ecosystems by all, with recognition that everyone contributes to the long term well-being and prosperity of the system.