Just a year ago, it seemed to be an environmental war that was unwinnable.
All that was at stake was the health of Lake George, and perhaps the biggest economic engine in the region: local tourism.
First there was an attack from zebra mussels, and last year an infestation of Asian clams in different locations around the lake. Each day, more of the pesky critters seemed to pop up.
Environmental groups were proactive and got the word out to fishermen and sportsmen alike to guard against infecting the lake with a new species that might proliferate.
There was a call for mandatory inspections and boat-washing stations, but that was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Government leaders were cautious, and the state initially balked entirely.
Things appeared dire, and we were skeptical boat-washing stations would even make much of a difference, considering these invasives were often small organisms — sometimes even microscopic — that would be difficult to identify.
With the first year of boat-washing completed, the statistics were eye-opening.
Of the 16,888 inspections done in Lake George, 1,135 found some type of contamination. Those numbers are startling.
As the environmentalists tell us, it only takes one contaminated boat to begin the cycle. The fact 1,135 contaminated boats were prevented from entering the water makes it clear boat-washing stations are well worth the cost and effort.
In a second story this past week, we heard from Lake George Park Commission that divers scouring the bottom of Lake George found a much smaller spread of Asian clams than last year.
A year ago, five new areas of infestation were discovered. This year, there were none.
We’re not sure if anyone knows if there is a connection with boat washing, but we would not be surprised if there was.
Much of the credit has to go to the S.A.V.E. Partnership, a coalition of municipal and environmental leaders that got the commitments to pay half the $700,000 it would take for the boat washing. The state eventually came around to funding the other half.
What was especially impressive about the S.A.V.E. Partnership was the speed in which it put together a coalition and moved forward.
It may not have stopped the spread of invasive species entirely, but it seems to have at least gotten it in check.
The program still can be improved, and the S.A.V.E. Partnership is already looking at ways to do that next year by examining boat launching data to find trends for staffing. S.A.V.E. also funded “night stewards” to work Rogers Rock State Campground and the Moss Point State Boat Launch to inspect and decontaminate boats after inspection hours at those 24-hour launches.
The boat-washing program was started as a two-year pilot program. With the results in, we expect it will eventually become permanent.
Perhaps what is most gratifying to hear is that officials say there has been no push back on the program. That’s an acknowledgement of the respect boaters and fishermen have for Lake George and its pristine reputation.
Granted, we are not out of the woods yet. Continued vigilance will be needed, as well as improvements to the plan.
For now, the news is good and the folks who put together the S.A.V.E. coalition should be congratulated for making a difference.
— Mayor Robert Blais, Lake George village — Honorary S.A.V.E. chairman
— Supervisor Ron Conover, town of Bolton
— Supervisor Dennis Dickinson, town of Lake George
— Bill Mason, business owner and former supervisor, Queensbury
— Supervisor Fred Monroe, town of Chester
— Supervisor John Strough, town of Queensbury
— Jeff Killeen, chairman, The FUND for Lake George
— Eric Siy, executive director, The FUND for Lake George
— Chris Navitsky, Lake George waterkeeper
— Walt Lender, executive director, Lake George Association
— Sandra Nierzwicki Bauer, director, RPI Darrin Fresh Water Institute
— Matt Simpson, town of Horicon supervisor