How SMLA Helps the Lake

What We Have Done: Over its 45-year life span SMLA worked tirelessly for a promising future for Smith Mountain Lake – a place that YOU have enjoyed.

We know SML: For the past 32 years SMLA has monitored key factors that determine the health of the Lake. In partnership with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Appalachian Power Company, Western Virginia Water Authority, Bedford Regional Water Authority, and Ferrum College, SMLA and its volunteers, SMLA executes one of the most successful water monitoring programs in the nation. The results of this program, and others, have provided the data that allows SMLA and the Tri County Lakes Administrative Commission, which represents Franklin, Bedford, and Pittsylvania Counties, to make informed, science-based decisions regarding lake regulations, restrictions and best practices – all designed to ensure that you enjoy Smith Mountain Lake and all that it provides.

We Identify Vulnerabilities and Respond to Threats:  Staying ahead of vulnerabilities and anticipated threats ensures our Lake remains clear and safe.

Over the years, Smith Mountain Lake has been exposed to a variety of environmental pressures that had negatively impacted the Lake. Here are a few:

  • In the early 1970’s SML was exposed to a constant inflow of untreated sewage. SMLA worked with the City of Roanoke and Roanoke Up River Commission to coordinate a plan that included updating the Roanoke Sewage Treatment facility.
  • The housing boom in the 80’s that brought increased runoff of fertilizers and sediments. SMLA promoted the development and sales of Phosphorus-free fertilizers that is now available in most all garden shops. This element is most responsible for algae production and noxious weed growth.
  • To facilitate the common needs of the surrounding three counties and to better effect local legislation, SMLA lobbied the three counties (Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania) to create the Policy Advisory Board–now named the Tri-County Lake Administrative Commission (TLAC).
  • In partnership with TLAC, operated the Weed Monitoring/Control Program that introduced grass carp to the lake to eradicate invasive hydrilla.
  • Raised awareness of the negative impact of high phosphorus fertilizer around the lake and the Roanoke, Salem and Vinton watershed – a significant influence towards promoting the sale of phosphorus-free fertilizers in VA.
  • The recent controversy over the potential impacts of the Mountain Valley Pipeline required SMLA volunteer scientists to identify the threats from a science and data framework, as well as offering solutions to mitigate these vulnerabilities.

On the horizon: Changes in our nation’s and State’s policies, technologies, growth and demographics, coupled with weather patters and other “unknowns”, require SMLA to identify them, understand their impact, and respond accordingly.

  • SMLA will continue to monitor the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction and operation to verify compliance with agreed upon procedures.
  • SMLA members will be involved in the scope of AEP “Project” relicensing and will continue to help design specific, and often scientific studies, to gain insight on how project operations impact the scenic, recreational and environmental aspects of FERC’s SML Power Project.
  • SMLA members attend County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings and report back to the SMLA BOD on issues that have potential to impact quality of life at the lake.
  • SMLA is working with VDOT to reduce the impact of sedimentation caused by the Hardy bridge reconstruction project, which may affect water clarity and purity.
  • SMLA plans to educate both drone operators and residents in current rules, restrictions, and safe operating best practices so all can enjoy our surroundings. The popularity of personal drones may become a privacy and safety concern for lake residents.

We Protect SML and Preserve its Quality: We are the Stewards of the Lake! Over the years SMLA has taken multiple, effective steps to: a) align and partner with organizations to work together to make a difference, b) initiate focused programs that all lead to enhanced environmental conditions, and c) energize the community to volunteer their time and resources – all for a better Lake.

Caring for our lake “takes a village”. Many of our all-volunteer efforts are in cooperation with numerous regulatory agencies, partnering organizations, and local governments.

  • For the past 31 years in support of Appalachian Power Company’s (APCO) requirement to monitor Lake water quality, SMLA monitors over 50 sampling sites in the Lake and its tributaries. Ferrum College executes a grant contract to direct sampling, analyze data and report on the results of the sampling. Our collaborative efforts have resulted in a 50 year old lake acting as a much younger lake. SMLA also work hand in hand with APCO and the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce to conduct Take Pride in Smith Mountain Lake – an annual Lake Clean-up that removes over 800 tons of debris. APCO removes hazards to navigation in the main channels while SMLA removes debris in coves and shorelines. SMLA significantly contributes to APCO’s Dam Project relicensing review as well as represents our membership during periodic negotiations for updating the Shoreline Management Plan.
  • The Virginia Department of Health (VADEQ) seeks assistance from SMLA to educate Lake residents on proper maintenance of residential septic systems that could seriously impact the health of the Lake. They also provide additional resources in support of SMLA’s Water Quality Monitoring Program. In a cooperative funding effort with the Tri-Counties Lake Administrative Commission (TLAC) and VADEQ, SMLA conducts a very successful Vessel Pump out Program that offers FREE pump outs of marine heads yielding over 4,700 gallons of effluent annually.
  • The Virginia Department of Inland Games and Fisheries (VADGIF) is a long time Friend of the Lake and advocate of boating safety and was instrumental in promoting successful legislation for mandatory boater education as proposed by SMLA’s Water Safety Council. Coupled with free boating inspections on select dates by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Water Safety Council, boating accidents on the Lake have dropped dramatically since instituting these measures. VADGIF also adopted SMLA’s proposal to eradicate invasive Hydrilla plants with the introduction of sterile carp resulting in zero observations of Hydrilla within months of initiation. VADGIF has worked with SMLA to research and install fish habitat and non-invasive grasses to encourage a diversified sport fish population.
  • Heavy rains not only bring in debris from upstream, but also cause significant sedimentation and nutrient runoff of residential properties caused by developer land clearing and rudimentary landscaping. In cooperation with the Virginia Master Gardeners, SMLA manages the Buffer Landscaping Program that educates residents on the use of native plants on the shoreline to act as a buffer to filter sediments and absorb nutrients before they find their way to the Lake. This program successfully called for the reduction/elimination of Phosphorus from garden fertilizers. This Phosphorus-free fertilizer is now readily available in all garden shops.

Use and Enjoy SML: In addition to the beauty and serenity that is inherently a part of Lake life, Smith Mountain Lake offers all residents and visitors alike a perfect place to enjoy boating, swimming, and a wide variety of water sports.  As the Lake has grown in popularity over the past 50 years, so has the increase in users, as well as the multiplicity of uses. From a simple sailing, boating and fishing Lake, SML over the years has attracted seaplanes, powersailing, kayaking, jet skiing, water skiing, performance boats, scuba diving, fishing tournaments, wake boarding, paddleboarding, tubing, wake surfing, and drone flying. Each of these activities competes for water or space on the Lake and each must be done safely and with respect for other users. SMLA’s Water Safety Council provides a “grass-roots” approach to boating and recreational safety.  The Council is comprised of all local residents who recommend and implement safe operating practices.

Part of safe boating is safe navigation.  Boaters can enjoy the Lake 24 hours a day thanks to the maps and charts that SMLA provides to boaters. These maps and charts contain up to date information regarding community locations, navigational aides and course water depth. Maps/charts may be acquired from the SMLA Office, ordered via our website, or purchased at most marinas, various realtors and the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center.

SMLA Programs – Working for and with You: SMLA Programs come and go with the requirements, Strategic Plan, and available funding. The following are the current active Programs:

  • Environmental Education – Educating our residents and youth to the environmental concerns and solutions that affect our Lake.
    • Adult and Youth Education – Reminding our residents to environmental sensitivities of the Lake and orienting them to our neighborhood youth.
    • Buffer Landscaping – Introducing Native Vegetation on the shoreline to help filter nutrients and sedimentation.
    • Septic System Education – Helping Lake residents to understand the hazards of a compromised septic system to the Lake and how to best manage the system.
  • Invasive Species – Developing and implementing scientifically based solutions to reduce or eliminate non-native vegetation and aquatic species that can strangle our Lake and make it unusable.
  • Lake Cleanup – Working with volunteers, both SMLA members and non-members to remove tree limbs and manufactured debris from coves and shorelines.
  • Save Our Streams –Sampling benthic organisms in tributaries to assess the health of water entering the Lake.
  • Water Level Monitoring – Understanding the various factors associated with how water inflow/outflow affects lake level.
  • Water Safety Council – Providing a variety of services to Lake boaters and swimmers designed to keep your summer fun safe.
  • Water Quality Monitoring – Sampling select water quality factors to assess the trophic level ensure clear water for all to enjoy.
  • Vessel Pump out – Providing free marine head pump outs for Lake boaters to minimize accidental release of human effluents into our water.

Join SMLA Today

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