The Cost of Private Lakes

The idea sounds great in concept.  Your own slice of paradise, roped off from the rest of the public, nobody to befoul your waters other than you and your extremely responsible neighbors and lakeshore property owner brethren.  Yet as noted in discussion and presentation with Lake County Health Department staff, almost every lake in Lake County, IL has at least one documented impairment (see LCHD presentation, Media Center).  More than half have multiple.  How has this happened you say?  How do I fix that problem?  Is this a problem?  So many directions this topic can go, but let’s explore some simple ideas below:

Illinois is not alone in this endeavor and other states with similar statutes face similar issues, but that is not the focus of this discussion; rather do the pros of private ownership outweigh the cons of privatized lake management.  Would you rather have a better means of obtaining public dollars to maintain your year round view or guaranteed peace and quiet at the cost of a degraded waterway?  In a state where natural resources are as underfunded as any state initiative and the largest water resources based management agency, the Fox Waterway Agency (FWA) has gone unfunded for over a year, the trickle down of funds to other users is nearly non-existent.

So what is the true cost to maintain a waterbody or waterway?  How much deferred maintenance have we allowed to take place on our shorelines and how many problems slowly rear their head?  It is one thing to ignore the symptoms that reside within the lake, but by being ignorant to the abuses of the watershed we are essentially passing the problem to the next generation.  Right now it is very difficult to fund projects on private waters unless the dollars are backed by a private interest organization and the reasoning is essentially justified.  The money used to buoy many of the grants available for waterway restoration, protection, enhancement, and stabilization are considered public funds which are therefore slated most likely for public projects.  Private lakes are not public projects.

Still the bulk of our water resources surface waters are under private ownership which either do not know (and/or) realize the status of the water resource along adjacent properties.  Studies performed in Minnesota found that when all other factors are equal, properties on lakes with clearer water commanded significantly higher property prices (  So the investment is not only in a clearer, more aesthetically pleasing waterway, but a higher property value.  Living along the waters edge requires greater responsibility than living in just any subdivision in the western burbs.  The proximity of living near the water requires additional care of stormwater from your own property and your neighbors property as well as water coming in from upstream sources.  In-lake dynamics will also play a role.  Whatever can get into the water, ultimately interacts physically and eventually chemically.

So many problems associated with water quality are visibly hard to identify and to an untrained eye may be near to invisible.  Dissolved constituents are mostly clear within the water column.  Bringing these concerns to the attention of interested parties has been difficult as well.  Since the problem is somewhat invisible or often not considered serious, when a property owner or group sees a price tag they become inclined to just walk away, whereas a state of government partner is required by law to protect the interests of the user base.

In the end, like in most cases a lot of this comes down to a financial situation involving agencies with prioritized goals and binding Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations that must be achieved.  In one hand the water resources are public domain that have limited access due to private property ownership.  The private ownership often make for a difficult trade off to access a resource that is not enjoyed by the entire population.  Therefore it is easy for agencies to continue to defer the maintenance and care of these areas to those private landowners who in many cases continue to be negligent in the care or prefer to assume that it’s not a big enough problem  to require care.

In the end the management fees that most lake property owners assess are focused on in-lake treatments that do little to impact the bigger picture which is coming off the landscape.  Slowly some municipal entities have been implementing a stormwater fee aimed at addressing these items but the money in most cases is focused on improving drainage and reducing flooding which in the end is not focused on water quality impacts.  Once this fee is universally adjusted to rate property owners based on their individual lot impact (lot rating), there will be little benefit to downstream water resources improvement.  Once the general public has a better awareness of they impact of their carbon footprint (in this case watershed impact footprint) we can begin to become more conscientious in our land impacts.

p0sted by Admin