DEVELOPMENT - The shoreline of Lake George has been developed with residences, motels, cottage colonies, businesses and summer camps for decades. Today, parts of the shoreline are undergoing re-development with small camps demolished for larger buildings that increase impervious and developed areas. High real estate values and fewere remaining shoreline development opportunities have driven development up hillsides and mountainsides surrounding Lake George. Many of the threats to the lake are related to development and the fact that environmentally fragile terrain is be compromised and altered to accommodate new development. This threat could be mitigated with through better application reviews by local, regional and state regulatory agencies. Stronger local and state regulations are also needed. One priority of the Lake George Waterkeeper is to focus on development issues around the lake.
STORMWATER - Stormwater can be defined as the concentrated runoff from a precipitation event that enters our waterways directly through storm sewers or surface runoff, also referred to as non-point source pollution. Water quality is most affected by stormwater runoff, although it is often unseen. Failure to adequately address stormwater can result in an increased volume of flowing water that scours streams, causing erosion; increased nutrient concentrations that feed algae, reducing water clarity and accelerating the aging of the water body; and increased pollution from metals, pathogens and pesticides that are conveyed with the initial first flush during a rain event. In a 2001 study of the phosphorous budget in Lake George, stormwater was identified as contributing 47% of the annual phosphorous load, which is the limiting factor in aquatic plant growth. When plants grow rapidly, die and decompose in abundance, a lake ages before its time. Poorly regulated stormwater around the lake combined with poor development standards makes stormwater the biggest threat facing the lake.
WASTEWATER - Wastewater is another major impact to the water quality of Lake George. With only four municipal wastewater treatment facilities surrounding Lake George, the majority of wastewater treatment is through individual on-site wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) or septic systems. When designed, installed and maintained properly, an OWTS can provide adequate treatment for potentially 50 years. However, many systems are not properly installed and no maintenance occurs. In addition, the State Department of Health Regulations for Individuals Systems is outdated and has not been revised since 1989. Homes can be renovated and the number of bedrooms increased without a requirement for inspection and certification of the existing wastewater treatment system. The existing OWTS may be inadequate. The Lake George Park Commission has legislative authority for the management of wastewater treatment in the Lake George basin, but there are no regulations existing at this time. Stronger regulations are needed.
INVASIVE SPECIES - Invasive species can be categorized into two groups - terrestrial (on land) and aquatic (in the water). Invasive or exotic species can quickly change an existing ecosystem through their aggressive ability to out compete, therefore crowding out native species. The most familiar aquatic invasive in Lake George is Eurasian watermilfoil, which was first identified in the lake in 1985. Other well known aquatic invaders are curlyleaf pondweed, zebra mussels, alewife and water chestnut. Terrestrial invasives in the Lake George basin include Japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, common reed grass or phragmites and shrubby honeysuckle. Invasive species can impact property values and impair recreation. The extent of infestation of terrestrial invasives is unknown, but believed to be very high. Many organizations have battled aquatic invasive species for over 20 years.
DE-ICING for WINTER TRACTION - In the past 20 years, chloride levels in Lake George have tripled. The majority of this increase is related to the application of road salt, the choice for mitigating winter weather conditions by the New York State Department of Transportation in their "bare road" policy. Chloride use increased in response to the concern expressed using a sand application on roadways. Runoff of sand increases sedimentation in the lake's tributaries, creating the formation of deltas at the tributary's mouth. Road salt cannot be removed from the water column and impacts aquatic habitats as well as people concerned with sodium restricted diets. Additional problems exist with other de-icing alternative solutions such as calcium chloride because calcium is the mineral necessary for the development of adult zebra mussel shells, an invasive species that has been located in Lake George.
SEDIMENT - Since 2002, Lake George and its tributaries have been listed as an impaired water body by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation due to sediment load. Lake George is classified as a Class AA-Special water body, which designates that its best intended use is for drinking water and contact recreation. The increase in sediment to the lake has caused thousands of individuals who use Lake George as a drinking water source to filter their water. In addition, the development of deltas and excessive sediment entering the lake has impacted public and private swimming and boating areas with decreasing water depths.
STREAM CORRIDOR MANAGEMENT- An undisturbed, protective riparian buffer along a stream is the most effective way to protect the health of a stream and its habitat. Existing mature, deep rooted vegetation stabilizes the banks of streams and provides resistance to erosion. The mature vegetation also provides shade which reduces water temperature, benefiting fish and other aquatic organisms. The riparian buffer provides a water quality benefit through the filtering of runoff, reducing sediments and other pollutants adsorbed through soil and roots. The Lake George Park Commission has the legislative mandate for stream corridor protection throughout the basin and has just initiated the process of rule adoption. Several towns in the basin have basic stream corridor provisions in their Town Code, but nothing substantial enough to provide any level of water quality protection.
RECREATIONAL USES - Lake George has been a recreational destination for centuries. The first non-military visitors were outdoorsmen interested in the fishing and wildlife. In the later part of the nineteenth century, steamboats were introduced on the lake and access opened to many otherwise remote areas of the lake. New access initiated the summer passion of island camping. Throughout the 20th century, recreational boating, especially motor boating, became prevalent on the lake. With these numerous and sometimes conflicting uses, the Lake George Park Commission undertook a study of recreational uses, primarily focusing on boating to determine carrying capacity issues and perception of user conflict among other issues. On a busy summer day, a single glimpse can witness a classic boater, water skiing, kayaker, personal watercraft, sail boating, parasailing, island campers and forested mountains with hidden hikers. Unfortunately, all of these recreational uses have some level of impact on the natural resources of the Lake George basin.
RE-DEVELOPMENT - For many years, Lake George served as a summer destination to enjoy the clear waters with emerging islands and mountains. Although there were numerous large mansions and the infamous "Millionaires Row", many of the summer homes were simple cottages with limited amenities, their main attraction was enjoying the beauty of the lake. Families that lived on the lake were stewards of the lake and maintained their modest cottages for many generations. With the extreme pressure imposed by limited lakefront real estate and its subsequent increased assessment values, taxes have impacted the ability of these long time stewards to maintain ownership of their properties. Small cottages are now being sold and new owners are interested in larger, more accommodating modern homes with a greater emphasis on interior amenities. These massive homes are often too large for the small parcels that once housed a cottage or camp, placing a greater strain on the lake and a burden on the land.
NUTRIENTS - Nutrients (phosphorous and nitrogen) naturally occur in the hydrologic cycle and contribute to the aging process of water bodies. In Lake George, the limiting nutrient is phosphorous. An abundance of phosphorous increases algae growth. As algae growth decays, dissolved oxygen levels in the lake are reduced resulting in the aging of the lake. This process is referred to as eutrophication and when related to development, may even be called ‘cultural eutrophication'. Phosphorous and nitrogen are naturally part of the environment . When forests and stream buffers are removed or altered, the natural balance is changed and these nutrients become excessive. In addition, humans increase levels of nutrients into the natural hydrologic cycle through addition of fertilizers, discharge of wastewater, pet waste and increased impervious coverage (house roofs, driveways, sidewalks).
OXYGEN DEPLETION - is the amount of oxygen dissolved in water. It is critical to the growth, reproduction, and survival of aquatic organisms that depend upon oxygen. Oxygen is dissolved in the water in two ways: 1) through wind and wave action at the surface of the water; 2) through aquatic plants growing in the near-shore areas and phytoplankton in deep water areas as oxygen is released through the process of photosynthesis. During stratification of the lake in the summer months, the hypolimnion (or lower depths) is isolated from the atmosphere and consumed oxygen is often not replenished until fall overturn. As a result, low levels of dissolved oxygen can occur in the hypolimnion during stratification. One area of concern is the growth of a zone in the south basin around Tea Island each summer where low levels of dissolved oxygen in the lake have been found chronically.
Oxygen is required for the respiration of all aerobic organisms, such as fish. With more food available, the bacteria increase in number and use up the dissolved oxygen in the water. When the dissolved oxygen content decreases, many fish and aquatic insects cannot survive. Areas with low levels of dissolved oxygen limit fish habitat for both refuge and foraging. This results in a dead area. The area south of Tea Island that experiences a chronic condition of dissolved oxygen during the summer months is a major cause of concern that continues to be monitored for growth of this area.
ALGAE BLOOMS - An algae bloom is a rapid increase in the population of algae in an aquatic system. Generally, one or a few phytoplankton species are involved and because of their high populations my cause a discoloration of the water. Although there is no officially recognized threshold level, algae can be considered to be blooming at concentrations of hundreds to thousands of cells per milliliter, depending on the causative species. Algal bloom concentrations may reach millions of cells per milliliter. Colors observed are green, yellowish-brown, or red. Bright green blooms may also occur. These are a result of blue-green algae, which are actually bacteria (cyanobacteria).
Some algal blooms are the result of an excess of nutrients (particularly phosphorus and nitrogen) into waters and higher concentrations of these nutrients in water cause increased growth of algae and green plants. As more algae and plants grow, others die. This dead organic matter becomes food for bacteria that decomposes it. Areas with low levels of dissolved oxygen can also cause a release and resuspension of nutrients, such as phosphorus in the water column, which can lead to algae blooms.
OVERUSE OF ISLANDS - Trampling of islands on the lake has been an issue for many years. The Forest Preserve islands receive heavy public use that is regulated by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and campers need to acquire permits and reservations to camp on the islands. Many of these islands have been used regularly for much of the last 100 years. Areas of soil compaction or stripped down to rock are plentiful. Erosion is an issue on many of the islands. The DEC has not prepared an updated Unit Management Plan (UMP) for either the Lake George Wild Forest Area or for the Lake George Islands Area. The Fund for Lake George will monitor and intervene during the planning for these public resources.