The Lake*A*Syst program conveys stewardship of Big Payette Lake to its residents and property owners. The program is designed for homeowners, landscapers, contractors, road builders and others who might have a hand in affecting the quality of our lake. It builds on our first successful program from the 1990s and can be a blueprint for handing a healthy lake to generations who come after us.

Lake*A*Syst can also help us build a better sense of community around our lake by sharing solutions, understanding good practices, and knowing who to call to answer questions or solve problems.

Our lake is a beautiful playground, for sure. Of course, it’s much more than that. It’s at least 20,000 years old, and holds about 157 billion gallons of our drinking water. It’s over 300 feet deep, spans 7.6 square miles, with a shoreline of over 22 miles. It takes almost two years for a drop of water flowing into the lake to pass through the outlet toward the Pacific Ocean. The entire watershed covers about 144 square miles of urban and residential land, forest, mountains and alpine lakes

Preventing Contamination of Drinking Water

Both groundwater and surface water play important roles in supplying drinking water to the many households around Big Payette Lake. If your home is not supplied by a public water system, it is your responsibility to ensure the water in your home is safe to drink. Drawing from the lake is considered hazardous by the Department of Environmental Quality unless state-of-the-art disinfection treatment systems are in place.

Strategies for Protecting Drinking Water

Well Location

  • Location of your well is a crucial safety factor. The well should be located up-slope and as far as possible from potential sources of contamination.

Well Maintenance

  • Test the water annually
  • Maintain septic systems properly and pump septic tanks at least every 3 years.
  • Avoid diverting stormwater and snowmelt to your well head.
  • Minimize the use of fertilizer and pesticides, particularly in sandy soils or near shallow wells.
  • Properly dispose of hazardous household products, and store chemicals as far from your well as possible

Water Testing

  • Households around Big Payette Lake should have their private water supply from wells or surface water tested annually to confirm that it is safe for human consumption.

Water Source

  • Read theAnnual Drinking Water Quality Report publishedby the City of McCall. It provides a discussion and lab analysis of the water quality situation that municipal customers should understand. If any pollutants may exceed standards, ask what the risk might be and what can be done to improve the outlook. Be an active, informed consumer of domestic water.
  • Idaho DEQ does not recommend using surface water as a drinking water supply without state-of-the-art disinfection treatment in place. Still, a significant number of homes and cabins take water from either Payette Lake or nearby streams for household use.
  • If you are using surface water as a drinking source you should go through at least a two-step treatment process prior to consumption. Water should then be disinfected to kill bacteria and viruses.
  • Water can be disinfected by boiling, using chlorine, or with ultraviolet light.

Lawn & Garden

Homeowners commonly over-apply fertilizer, adding much more nitrogen and phosphorus to lawns and gardens than can actually be absorbed by plants and soil. Many residential lawns along Payette Lake go right up to the lake shore with no natural vegetation or beach space to serve as a buffer. Over-watering acts in tandem with over-fertilizing to add excess nutrients to the lake. Pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals on lawns and gardens can also leach into the lake by traveling through the soil and into the shallow water table along the shore. All of these actions can threaten recreational and drinking water uses in the lake.

Improving Lawn & Garden Management

Risks from Pesticide and Herbicide Use on Lawns and Gardens

  • Minimize use of pesticides and herbicides; follow label directions and instructions for use.
  • Consider natural alternatives to pesticide/herbicide use; call the Valley County University of Idaho Extension for information (208-372-7190;
  • Identify whether the problem in the lawn or garden is being caused by an insect, fungus, disease, or other source.
  • Determine whether the problem causes environmental harm or plant damage or is merely aesthetic.
  • Have a diversity of plants in your gardens for a balanced ecosystem and natural pest control. (Mix up the flowers and vegetables, for example.)
  • Rotate garden crops each year to reduce pest damage and minimize disease.
  • Maximize conditions for healthy plant growth by choosing climate-appropriate plants with pest and disease resistance.
  • Protect and attract beneficial insects by providing diverse garden habitat and by recognizing their larvae and eggs in order to not harm them.
  • Use nontoxic biodegradable pesticides or herbicides.
  • Do not apply chemical treatment in windy conditions or prior to irrigation or predicted rain.
  • Do not pour surplus chemicals down a drain, on ground or in surface waters. Instead, hold toxic and hazardous materials for disposal during the Valley County hazardous material collection program each year, typically in August. Call 208-634-7712 for current information.

Risks from Fertilizer Use on Lawns and Gardens

  • Landscape with native plants which do not require applications of fertilizer.
  • Have your soil tested to determine how much fertilizer is needed. Use alternative forms of fertilizer, such as grass cuttings, compost, or composted manure.
  • If chemical fertilizer is used, select slow-release (water insoluble) forms.
  • Apply fertilizer according to label instructions and follow precautions; purchase only as much as needed and dispose of containers properly.
  • Water your lawn and garden lightly after fertilizing, but do not allow excess water to run off.
  • Do not apply greater than 3 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn per year; make several applications over the growing season rather than one single application.
  • Never apply any fertilizer within 100 feet of Payette Lake or its tributaries.

Risks from Irrigating Lawns and Gardens

  • Retaining native vegetation on your property is the recommended strategy; this will greatly reduce the need for irrigation.
  • Plant lawns with drought-tolerant grass varieties; an excellent mixture for around Payette Lake is bluegrass, creeping red fescue, and perennial rye.
  • Don’t over-water. Over-watering can significantly contribute to the transport of unwanted nutrients and sediments into Payette Lake.
  • Consider that established lawns only need 1-2 inches of water per week.
  • Leaving grass clippings on the lawn provides natural fertilizer as well as shading the soil surface and retaining moisture, thus reducing the amount of watering needed.
  • If your runoff from irrigation crosses impermeable surfaces and is not controlled, sediment and road chemicals may be transported into surface water.

Risks from Erosion

  • Minimize areas of exposed soil by maintaining native vegetation or dense turf.
  • Minimize impermeable surfaces such as roads, driveways, roofs and parking lots.

Additional Strategies for Homeowners to Protect Payette Lake

The most efficient strategy for protecting surface water from contamination due to lawn and garden activities is to create or enhance a buffer zone of native trees, shrubs and grasses between the lake and your lawn. The most effective buffer zone is 50-100 feet wide. This single action will help preserve water quality by filtering rain, snow, and irrigation runoff, as well as by absorbing nutrients from shallow groundwater.

  • Rake dead leaves and brush away from the water; compost vegetation in a sturdy structure away from the shoreline. Avoid leaf blower use near the shoreline to keep debris from entering the lake.
  • Never dump leaves or vegetative debris into the lake or any stream. Dumping organic material into the water releases nutrients and organic acids that use up valuable oxygen needed by fish.
  • Avoid burning on the beach or near the shore because the remaining ash is highly alkaline and contains soluble nutrients. If it washes or blows into the lake, it can change the pH of the water and promote growth of undesirable plants and algae.
  • Never use pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or fertilizers within 100 feet of the lake or its tributaries.


Access Roads & Driveway Runoff

Public and private residential roads around Payette Lake are considered major sources of pollutants to the lake, because significant amounts of sediment and unwanted nutrients flow from these roads into the lake during storms and spring snowmelt.

Many roads in our watershed were originally built for short-term logging access and were never intended for permanent long-term residential and recreational use. Constructed of compacted native soils, these dirt road surfaces, if not properly managed, can become rutted after even one single storm. Water flowing down dirt roads carries suspended sediment. Ruts greatly increase the velocity of the flowing water and thus the amount of sediment carried by stormwater. When sediment-laden stormwater reaches the lake or a tributary to the lake, it negatively impacts water quality and important ecosystems. Excess sedimentation and its accompanying nutrients can kill aquatic bottom-life, disrupt native fish spawning and cause excessive algal growth. All these impacts are dangerous to the life of the lake, the drinking water supply, and human health.

General Guidelines for Proper Road and Driveway Construction

Strategies for Controlling Erosion and Preventing Ruts

  • Talk with your contractor. Even if using good strategies, property owners with insufficient knowledge and experience who choose to construct private roads may unintentionally cause damaging erosion. When designing, constructing or repairing roads, always hire a design engineer, contractor, and an experienced heavy-equipment operator.
  • Make sure that your roads are placed as far away as possible from streams, surface waters and wetlands.
  • Roads need to be constructed in a manner that prevents debris and excess materials from entering streams. Check that debris and excess materials such as fill or gravel are deposited outside of riparian areas.
  • Drainage at staging areas should be managed by creating protective berms or by routing stormwater to a swale (a depression that follows the contour of the land.)
  • Care should be taken to maintain trees and shrubs growing at the base of fill slopes.
  • Mixing stumps and other vegetative debris into the road fill should always be avoided.
  • Ensure that debris, overburden, and other waste materials produced by road construction and maintenance are placed in a secure location to avoid entry into streams. These waste areas should be included in soil stabilization planning for the road.

Strategies for Ditches

  • Talk with your contractor. Locate ditches on the up-slope side of the road to prevent water from flowing onto the road from uphill.
  • The ditch should be U-shaped along the bottom. If the ditch must be flat on the bottom, a minimum 2-foot width is required to help slow and disperse water.
  • Make ditches between 1.5 and 2 feet deep and wide enough to handle all runoff and sediment sizes.
  • Line ditches as soon as possible to prevent erosion and to maintain the ditch shape.
  • All ditches should have an outlet other than a stream, river, or lake.
  • Always clean ditches when they become clogged with sediment or debris to prevent overflows and washouts.
  • Check ditches after major storms or spring runoff for obstructions, erosion, or bank collapse.
  • Strategies for Culverts
  • Talk with your contractor. To install a fish-friendly culvert, select a site where installation will not result in a sudden increase or decrease in the gradient (slope).
  • Design culverts so that the velocity of water passing through the pipe is the same as that of the water before it enters the pipe.
  • Check periodically to see that culverts have not become dislodged. Dislodged culverts may result in lower capacity, increased speed in the flow of the water, less water entering the culvert, and more channel scouring in the stream itself.
  • Maintain culverts regularly to prevent erosion. Periodic inspection and maintenance will extend the life of culverts and of forest roads which can easily be washed out by a broken culvert. This vigilance can reduce the cost of road maintenance as well. Keep water bars and box culverts free of debris and sediment for optimum performance.
  • Avoid using roads during wet periods if such use would be likely to damage drainage features.

Landscape Practices & New Construction

If you are planning new construction or landscaping on your property it is essential that you consider the effects your activity will have on the lake and watershed. Careful preliminary planning for your site can preserve natural vegetation, minimize disturbance and reduce runoff and erosion.

Soil erosion can undermine structures on your property, reduce your soil fertility, as well as clog road ditches. In addition, soil eroding into Payette Lake and local streams can cause excessive sedimentation, kill aquatic organisms and disrupt spawning habitat. The nutrient-laden sediment can also lead to algae blooms.

All these potential problems are harmful to the environment and to drinking water sources. Your thoughtful land use practices can prevent harmful pollutants from being washed into the lake. Careful planning is crucial as the soil around the lake is highly erodible and many slopes are steep. Making decisions prior to construction or landscaping is much more effective than trying to correct problems later. Planning ahead can avoid difficult and costly erosion problems.

Strategies for Responsible Landscaping & New Construction

Reducing water and runoff problems

  • Verify that your contractors are qualified and certified for activities in the Shoreline and River Environs Zone as required by local code.
  • Time your construction work for dry periods (summer or early fall) when there will be low runoff and less erosion.
  • Locate driveways, walks and edges of your yard and gardens to follow level contours and gentle slopes.
  • Minimize impermeable surfaces such as roads, driveways, roofs and parking lots.
  • Temporarily stabilize bare soil by using mulches of straw, hay, wood chips or wood fibers.
  • Since long steep slopes have the greatest erosion potential, do not allow stormwater runoff to flow directly downhill. Cross-slope designs are always better than up-and-downhill designs.
  • Consider putting small dams at intervals to slow runoff and trap sediment.
  • Rainfall and snowmelt runoff should be directed to vegetated drainage areas.
  • Protect natural drainage areas from filling with sediment by redirecting runoff.
  • During new construction, use standardized sediment barriers, temporary berms of straw bales, earth dikes, or sandbags to control erosion.

Preserving Existing Native Vegetation

  • Maintain a filter strip of natural vegetation along the shoreline of Payette Lake and its tributaries. The best buffer consists of mature woodland, undisturbed grass, and shrubs. This buffer strip is most effective at 50 – 100 feet wide.
  • Minimize disturbance to plants and trees, identifying and clearly marking trees that need to be preserved.
  • Protect trees from heavy equipment by installing a barrier fence at the dripline. (The dripline marks the edge of a tree’s foliage where moisture from rainfall would drop.) Most of the tree’s roots lie within the dripline and are vulnerable to damage from heavy equipment that can compact the soil.
  • Care during and after landscaping and new construction
  • Keep the site covered with organic mulch after any disturbance.
  • Use hay or straw as mulch to cover disturbed areas after re-seeding.
  • Establish a permanent vegetative cover by planting native trees and shrubs whenever possible. Native plants are well-adapted to the local climate and need minimal maintenance and watering. They buffer harsh winter winds as well as provide privacy and wildlife habitat.
  • Minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers and follow label directions carefully.

Use fire-wise landscaping to decrease runoff risk and protect your home from wildfire

  • Prune all trees up to 6-10 feet from the ground.
  • Remove leaf litter. Dispose of cuttings and debris responsibly (don’t burn or dump into surface waters or ditches.)
  • Store firewood away from the house.
  • Use fire-resistant building materials.
  • Remove hanging branches that are in contact with your house and out-buildings.

Preventing Contamination from Stormwater Runoff

Stormwater runoff is created when rain or melting snow flows over impervious surfaces and does not soak into the ground. As more of the watershed is developed with impermeable surfaces such as roads, driveways, roofs, and parking lots, less water can soak into the ground and is forced to “run off”.

Your property in and of itself may not be a significant source of pollution, but the cumulative effect of pollution from all the properties in the Big Payette Lake watershed accounts for 14% of the total phosphorus delivery into the lake, which is very significant. On individual properties around the lake, it is the responsibility of the homeowner to reduce environmental harm by properly managing contributions to stormwater runoff.
All these potential problems are harmful to the environment and to drinking water sources. Your thoughtful land use practices can prevent harmful pollutants from being washed into the lake. Careful planning is crucial as the soil around the lake is highly erodible and many slopes are steep. Making decisions prior to construction or landscaping is much more effective than trying to correct problems later. Planning ahead can avoid difficult and costly erosion problems.

Reducing Pollutants in Runnoff

Reducing water and runoff problems

    Hazardous Household Products

    • When possible use products that are nontoxic.
    • Read and carefully follow use instructions on the product label.
    • Store the minimum amount of hazardous products.
    • Do not dispose of household hazardous waste in the trash, storm drains, streams, sink, toilet, or on the ground.
    • Hazardous waste can be disposed of during household hazardous waste drives held annually by Valley County. See for more information on dates and locations.

    Vehicle Use and Engine Maintenance

    • Clean up oil stains; avoid outdoor spills of antifreeze, brake fluid, and other engine fluids.
    • Wash vehicles at a commercial car wash or on a lawn that’s not directly adjacent to the lake.
    • Do not use cleaners that contain ammonia, chlorinated solvents, petroleum distillates, or lye. Buy and use only nontoxic, phosphate-free, biodegradable cleaners.
    • Do not wash cars and boats where runoff travels directly into stream or lake waters.

    Animal Wastes

    • Always pick up after your pet! Especially within a short distance of the lake.

    Erosion Prevention

    • Make every effort to preserve native vegetation.
    • Cover bare earth with a layer of straw mulch, fabric, or bark.
    • Replant any bare areas immediately after new construction activities.
    • If you have rain spouts and gutters, check the flow to ensure that the rainwater spreads out evenly where the spout meets the ground.

    Protecting the Riparian Zone of Streams and the Lake

    • Retain a high percentage of native shrubs and trees along the shoreline and streambanks.
    • Minimize disturbances to riparian vegetation.
    • Replace non-natives with native plants.
    • Preserve a 50 -100 foot buffer of vegetation (preferably native plants) between bare soil, lawns, or gardens and the lake.

    Preventing and Minimizing Runoff

    • Minimize pavement, compacted dirt, and covered areas that prevent water from soaking into the ground.
    • Plant new vegetation and preserve existing trees and shrubs to stabilize the soil.
    • Limit clearing and grading on slopes and keep access roads and paths to a minimum.
    • Use existing natural drainage systems such as gulches or any low areas instead of digging new ditches.
    • Design culverts and drainage structures to handle excessive amounts of runoff; assistance is available from the Valley County Soil and Water Conservation District (382-3317;
    • Monitor and maintain drainage-ways so they don’t fill up with sediment and are able to carry stormwater as intended.
    • Incorporate a good gravel base into your private roads and driveways instead of using only compacted dirt.
    • Sweep paved parking areas and walkways instead of washing them down with a hose. This prevents sediment, de-icer/salt, and petroleum products from washing off in runoff. Cover stockpiles of salt and sand with a tarp or store them in a building.
    • Use paving stones instead of solid concrete for walkways; this allows water to seep into the ground instead of running off.
    • Avoid creating paths straight down a slope because this causes erosion. Compacted soil on footpaths also promotes excessive runoff. Naturally-vegetated pathways are always best
    • Control erosion during construction by using temporary methods such as: diversions to carry water away from the construction site to where it can be safely dispersed; earth dikes or straw bales to trap sediments before they enter surface water.
    • Near lakes and streams use only clean fill (free from debris and dirt) such as rock, sand, or gravel.
    • If you are building a new house or garage, and design considerations are flexible, position rooftops so they are perpendicular to the slope instead of parallel, to slow down runoff.

    Resources Here