Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission

Frequently Asked Questions

How slow must I go in a no wake zone?

To comply with “no wake” requirements, any motorboat must operate at a speed no greater than the slowest possible speed required to maintain steerage when within 50 feet of a dock, piers, boathouse, or boat ramp.

Bryozoan - have you seen this?

BryozoaThose jelly-like deposits are Bryozoan and have been found at Smith Mountain Lake. During the past eleven years, we have received several reports of these moss animals. Bryozoans are colonial animals that filter water for their food and are usually found attached to a submerged object. They range in size from three or four inches to the size of a football. Experts have stated that this species will not cause our Lake any problems and their presence is an indicator of good water quality.

Awareness of the number and locations of this species in Smith Mountain Lake may prove to be of assistance as the Smith Mountain Lake Association continues to monitor the water quality. If you observe something that fits this description, please contact the Smith Mountain Lake Association at (540) 719-0690, or email at

How often should septic systems be pumped out?

Septic systems should be pumped out every three to five years. All homeowners need to be aware of the importance of maintaining their septic systems. This is true for all homeowners, but is particularly crucial information for the Smith Mountain Lake area, because failing septic systems degrade the environment, especially lakes, streams and groundwater.

If septic systems are to continue working properly, they need to be maintained. The most essential step is to have the solids that accumulate in the bottom of a septic tank pumped out every three to five years. Doing so will help prolong the life of the system.

Septic systems often fail because they are neglected or abused. A failing septic system can be a health threat to family members, neighbors and visitors. They also reduce property value and are often expensive to repair. Warning signs of a failing system include slow-draining drains or toilets, sewage odors, sewage surfacing over drain fields or backing up into the house.

Adhering to the following guidelines will help maintain your septic system:

  • Have your septic system tank inspected and pumped out by a licensed septic contractor every three to five years
  • Reduce water usage when possible
  • Deflect roof drains and surface water from driveways and hillsides away from the septic system
  • Do not drive or park over any part of the system
  • Do not dump non-biodegrades or poisons down your drains

Poorly maintained and malfunctioning septic systems and the adverse effects they may have on lake water quality are a critical concern. In an effort to reduce the risk of sewage contamination reaching Smith Mountain Lake, Franklin County has an ordinance requiring the inspection or pump-out of any septic system that is located within 500 feet of the shore of Smith Mountain Lake every five years. The County Mandatory Pump-Out Program became effective July of 2006. Contact the Department of Planning and Community Development at 540-483-3027 for additional information.

What are Buffer Zones and why are they needed?

Landscape management practices have a significant effect on ecological and property management concerns. Preventive measures can be taken to protect lakeshore property from some ecological damage. One measure which often proves beneficial is the creation of a buffer zone. Buffer zones are areas along the shoreline of a body of water that protect stream channels and banks. They reduce the amount of pollutants entering a lake, pond or stream by trapping, filtering and diverting sediments, nutrients and other chemicals that exist in the runoff from surrounding lands. These buffers protect land from being lost through stream bank erosion, and can provide habitat for fish and other important aquatic organisms.

Shoreline erosion is a problem often experienced by lakeshore property owners. Wave action is a chief cause of shoreline erosion. Waves wash against the shoreline and eventually wear away unprotected soils. These problems are often minimal along natural shorelines with native aquatic plants on the banks. The plants reduce the energy of the waves, thus decreasing their erosive force on the shoreline.

Plant growth in lakes is a natural process. However, plant growth can become a nuisance when it interferes with recreation. The growth of aquatic plants and algae largely depends upon the nutrient supply in the water. The main nutrient that stimulates excessive growth of plants in lakes is phosphorous. Phosphorous is a major component of lawn fertilizer. Buffer zones act as a natural filter, preventing landscape chemicals from reaching the lake. Landscape design and maintenance methods often used for lawns destroy or degrade an area’s value as wildlife habitat. However, wildlife species which are often considered nuisances find well-manicured lawns to be ideal food sources.

Many of the above-mentioned problems could be alleviated by the creation of a buffer zone along the shoreline of the property. Buffer zones should contain native trees, wildflowers, and grasses and should extend at least 30′ from the water’s edge onto the land. The Smith Mountain Lake Association (a non-profit, non-governmental agency) has information on creating a buffer zone. To speak with someone from their Buffer Committee call 540-719-0690.

In summary, Smith Mountain Lake receives many benefits from buffer zones including:

  • Helping to prevent water pollution
  • Significantly reducing the amount of soil erosion
  • Nuisance wildlife species will generally not cross a buffer zone with tall grasses
Why is Water Quality Important?

Water quality is important because it maintains ecological processes which support biodiversity. Good quality of water will ensure that people do not get sick from harmful organisms in the water, and food grown with the water will not contain harmful chemicals. In addition, many of our water uses are dependent on water quality. These uses include irrigation, drinking, wildlife habitat, and recreational activities such as fishing, swimming and boating. Preserving good water quality has a major impact on the economic health of the Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake regions.

Is Water Quality Monitored at Smith Mountain Lake?

For over 35 years, the Smith Mountain Lake Association and Ferrum College have partnered to monitor water quality. The Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission (TLAC) has participated by providing funding for these activities. In addition, TLAC has been instrumental in securing legislative financial support from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to assist in funding water quality monitoring. For more information on the water quality management reports visit the Smith Mountain Lake Association website.

Is Water Quality Monitored at Leesville Lake?

The Leesville Lake Association and Lynchburg College in partnership with American Electric Power Co. monitor the quality of water at Leesville Lake. A report is prepared annually that provides updated information regarding the water quality at Leesville Lake as well as additional information to be used in creating a long term plan to protect the health and quality of life in Leesville Lake.

Are cows allowed in the lake?

There are no ordinances or laws that prohibit cows and other farm animals from wading in the lake. In many cases, farmland and pastures border along the shoreline and farm animals are often seen wading in the lake. Generally, this occurs in less densely populated areas of the lake.

How do I report a dead animal in the lake?

To facilitate reporting a dead animal in the lake, you may contact the Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission (TLAC) at 540-721-4400. We will forward your report to American Electric Power on your behalf.

Is there a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake?

Yes, a Shoreline Management Plan has been developed to provide guidelines and regulations for shoreline development at Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake. Questions should be directed to American Electric Power at 540-489-2540. Visit to view the Shoreline Management Plan.

Where do I find regulations related to building a dock?

Regulations for building a dock are part of the Shoreline Management Plan. Visit to view the Shoreline Management Plan.

Can I blow leaves into the lake?

Section 62.1-194 Code of Virginia states: It is unlawful to blow, dump, or cast any material into the lake. Violations of this nature are considered misdemeanors and are punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000.00. Violations can be reported to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources at 434-525-7522.

Who is responsible for maintenance of navigation markers?

American Electric Power is responsible for the majority of navigation markers on Smith Mountain Lake. Navigation aids needing maintenance can be reported to the Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission (TLAC) at 540-721-4400, during business hours Monday through Friday. We will forward the information to AEP on your behalf. Weekend and holiday reports can be directed to the following website:

How can I help keep navigation markers in good repair?

The Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission (TLAC) has adoption programs to monitor navigation aids on Smith Mountain Lake that include channel markers and lights, plus the 18 lights on HalesFord Bridge. The program is as easy as volunteering to monitor a marker or buoy that you can see from your home. Others may choose to volunteer to adopt a marker that they pass regularly when boating on the lake.

If you are interested in volunteering as an adopter, please contact us at 540-721-4400 or

Smith Mountain Lake Dam

Photo by Robert Houpt

Smith Mountain Lake Dam

Photo by Robert Houpt

Smith Mountain Lake Dam

Photo by Robert Houpt

Smith Mountain Lake Dam

Photo by Robert Houpt