Ministère de l’Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs
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Lakes and watercourses

Ours to save

Why our lakes and rivers are dying (eutrophication)

Lakes, rivers and streams have been central to our lives since the beginning of time. Initially, people settled near them because they offered transportation and convenient access to water. Over time, the search for peace, quiet, space and nature also attracted us to the water. However, these same shorelines have been deforested, backfilled, turned into lawns and even filled with rocks. Beaches have appeared where none existed and wastewater has been poured into water everywhere. In some cases, these actions have contributed to the gradual deterioration of water bodies, shortening their life spans. This process is called eutrophication

The main results of eutrophication are an excessive increase in algae and a decrease in water quality, which can lead to health problems and loss of property value. Eventually, people choose to leave the very bodies of water that initially attracted them.

Special attention to shorelines

Maintaining and improving the water quality of a body of water means paying special attention to its shores and littoral zone. In order to do so, the erosion and degradation of shorelines must be prevented, and the quality and biodiversity of the area must be preserved. The government therefore prepared the Protection Policy for Lakeshores, Riverbanks, Littoral Zones and Floodplains. The Policy applies to all natural and artificial lakes and watercourses, both large and small, regardless of whether their water flow is constant or intermittent. Drainage ditches that serve 2 or more lots are also subject to the Policy, which is applied via municipal regulations. However, since rules alone are not enough, every action that protects, restores, cleans or sanitizes a body of water is important and contributes to the common effort to recover water.

What you need to know if you must take action...

In general, the Policy prohibits structures, undertakings and works that touch shorelines, littoral zones and floodplains.

The following (among others) are prohibited:

  • harnessing the water;

  • digging;

  • changing the course of a body of water;

  • removing gravel;

  • backfilling;

  • building dams or embankments.

Illustration - High-water mark

Definitions from the Protection Policy for Lakeshores, Riverbanks, Littoral Zones and Floodplains

Littoral zone: the part of a lake or watercourse that extends from the high-water mark to the centre of the body of water

Lakeshore or riverbank: a strip of land 10 to 15 metres wide bordering a lake or watercourse and extending inland from the high-water mark.

High-water mark: the line which marks the limit of the littoral zone and the shoreline or riverbank, located at the point where predominantly terrestrial plants succeed predominantly aquatic plants

However, it is permitted to:

  • install an access to the water (other than a vehicular route or boat access ramp) that respects the following conditions:

  • where the slope is gradual, a 5-metre-wide window in the vegetation is permitted;

  • where the slope is steep, a stairway on an angle from the shoreline and a 5-metre-wide window in the vegetation are permitted;

  • build wharves, shelters or docks on pilings or made of floating platforms.

To improve the quality of watercourses, other actions can be taken:

  • planting shrubs, trees or herbaceous plants. However, it is better to let nature take over. Planting grass is prohibited.

    • leave a few dead trees, in order to provide shelter and food.
      Cutting only sick or dangerous trees;

    • stabilizing degraded shores using vegetation, for example willow fascines and gabions, in order to prevent erosion. Important! The advice of a specialist is required if you wish to stabilize shorelines using concrete or wood;

  • maintaining the shoreline or littoral zone in a natural state, use no fertilizers or pesticides.

The importance of a healthy shoreline

The shoreline and littoral zone are essential to the survival of a lake or watercourse and in order to maintain a balanced ecosystem.

Natural windbreak Landscape value Regulating water levels Sun protection Preventing erosion Biodiversity Filters pollution Rives et littoral

1 Natural windbreak: Shoreline vegetation protects your home from wind damage.

2 Landscape value: Shoreline vegetation reflects the natural beauty of the landscape and increases the value of your property.

3 Regulating water levels: By retaining and evaporating precipitations, shoreline vegetation reduces the risk of flooding.

4 Sun protection: Shade provided by trees creates a screen that prevents the water from becoming too warm, which limits the production of algae.

5 Preventing erosion: Vegetation stabilizes shorelines, reduces the sanding-up of spawning grounds and avoids soil loss.

6 Biodiversity: Watercourses provide wildlife with food and shelter. They provide a precious resource allowing us to observe wildlife and provide us with areas for hunting and fishing.

7 Filters pollution: Vegetation retains a portion of the fertilizers, pesticides and sediments carried by surface runoff, thereby extending the lifespan of watercourses.

Check before you act!

Maison et lacIf you would like to carry out work along the shoreline or in the littoral zone of a lake or watercourse, you must first check with the municipality to find out about the applicable rules and regulations, including the Wild-life Conservation Act, managed by the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. Make sure you have the necessary authorizations.

Regional offices

For information, contact the Centre d’information of the Ministère.


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