Lake Watch 
                     of 
               Lake Martin
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Cleaning Tips for Keeping our Lake Clean

Boat and personal water craft owners play a key role in protecting the quality of our water. Take care when filling your vessel with oil, gasoline or diesel. To avoid mishaps when refueling, make sure your boat is securely afixed to the dock and your engine is off.  Don't overfill your tank. Experts recommend that you fill your tank to 90% since fuel expands as temperature rises.  It doesn't take much to contaminate the water and damage the environment. If you see a sheen, you are seeing pollution. In the event of a major hazardous material spill—and it only takes a quart of oil to make a serious mess and damage the environment—contact ADEM immediately for assistance and notify the nearest marina.  The Alabama Emergency Management Agency State Warning Point number is 1-800-843-0699.  The ADEM staff is on-call 24 hours per day and can offer advice and assistance in cleaning up the spill and mobilize the appropriate agency to handle the situation.  The same number can be used to report fish kills.

 

When you report a spill, be ready to give an accurate location of the incident and the cause or source of the pollution if you can identify it as well as the weather and water conditions.  If you know, report the type and amount of fuel spilled as well.  Do not try to rectify the situation by adding detergent such as Dawn dishwashing liquid.  This might appear to fix the problem, but detergent simply disperses the pollutants making it more difficult to clean up and potentially causing more harm than good to the lake by polluting sediments.

 

Boat owners may wish to purchase and have on hand commercially available pads for absorbing small petroleum-based spills or leaks. These pads float on water and absorb oil and fuel but not water and are relatively inexpensive.  Contaminated pads can be bagged and sent to a permitted land fill as long as the spill was less than 5 cubic yards.  Larger spills would require professional assistance.

 

If you use portable containers to refuel, make sure the boat is steady and pour slowly. "Jerry jugs" are a major source of fuel contamination in the water.  Funnels help avoid spills.  So does fueling while the boat is still on the trailer and wiping down any spillage before launching.

 

Well-maintained boats are less likely to leak. So start each season with a basic tune-up and inspection of your motor and fuel tank, checking for corrosion and leaks.  Dispose of used oil properly, preferably at a recycling location. The same goes for engine coolants and other fluids, including lubricants—do not dispose of them in the lake and do not allow any to spill in the water or boat ramp.

 

When cleaning your boat, make sure you don't dirty the water. Most boat hulls have toxic paints that are released into the water  during cleaning and many common cleaning materials are hazardous to the environment as well. If your boat needs a thorough cleaning, it is best to take it out of the water and make sure you are using the proper cleaner for your type hull.  An annual wax job will help prevent dirt build-up and make cleaning easier. And watch for runoff from your cleaning. Use non-toxic cleaning materials to keep your boat clean, including baking soda, vinegar (which helps with mildew stains), and borax.  This is one time when muscle power is better than chemical cleaners, many of which can harm finishes on boat hulls, upholstery, and carpets.  A good general cleaner is one cup of white vinegar mixed with two gallons of water.  To clean chrome, try lemon juice and baking soda and polish with baby oil. Baking soda will also clean stainless steel and vinegar will remove water spots.  

 

Many soaps and detergents add nutrients to the water which can promote algae bloom, which harms fish and other aquatic life. Make sure any product you use is environmentally friendly and is free of phosphates and chlorine. The labels "natural,"  "green," or "earth friendly" are not always reliable guides due to inadequacies in the labeling law.

 

Don't litter unintentionally.  Stow items carefully so that items don't fly overboard when you are boating.  Never use the lake as your garbage can. While you are at it, make sure your water toys, flotation devices, chairs, and buoys are secured on your dock otherwise wind and/or waves could dislodge them.  If you see items floating in the lake, please be a good steward and collect them for proper disposal.

 

It goes without saying that raw sewage not only threatens water quality, but human health.  Make sure you handle on-board sewage properly. As the saying goes, "Pump It, Don't Dump It—It's the Law!"

 

Docks and walls benefit from cleaning too.  But be careful and do not use harmful chemical products which degrade water quality.  Often, the concentrated spray from a garden hose is sufficient to clean wood docks and decks. Be careful using pressure washers, which can damage wood. If you have a mildew problem, use an oxygen bleach, which is less toxic than chlorine bleach. In addition, chlorine bleach can damage wood.  For oil stains on a wood dock, try a paste of baking soda and water and scrub.

 

And remember: what is good for the water is good for you and your family.  Environmentally-friendly cleaning products are less likely to cause harm to people and pets too. 

By Kathryn Braund.  Originally published in Lake Martin magazine (Summer 2015)
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