Anyone feeling sanguine about the health of Lake George need only glance at Lake Erie’s troubles to have the worries surface.
Anxiety about our lake is fitting and necessary, even though a recent report from Darrin Fresh Water Institute and the Fund for Lake George found the lake to be in “remarkably good condition.”
While celebrating the lake’s health and patting ourselves on the back for actions that have been taken to safeguard its water quality, we should also be reminding ourselves of the dangers to its continued health. Water quality can deteriorate quickly.
Since the economy of the region depends on a large extent on the health of Lake George, we cannot think of any single resource whose protection is more important.
Cities like Toledo, Ohio, have discovered in the past month what can happen when you fail to protect the natural resources that nourish and sustain communities. Residents of Toledo were unable to drink their tap water for two days in early August, because of toxic blue-green algae that had flourished in Lake Erie. Photos showed green slime coating the surface of the lake.
Can you imagine the economic disaster a Lake George algae bloom on that scale would precipitate?
So we are fortunate the natural configuration of the lake and its watershed, along with the efforts of lakeside communities and Lake George advocacy and protection groups, have so far kept it quite clean.
Lake George is still rated AA-special the state’s highest rating, suitable for drinking water. The lake does not suffer from the sort of widespread, persistent contamination that compromises water quality.
But the lake faces threats. The biggest threats, according to the institute’s report, include rising concentrations of salt, nutrient loading and invasive species.
The lakewater is getting saltier because we spread salt on roads to melt ice in winter, and it runs off into the lake. Communities have investigated alternatives, and the village of Lake George has been using a treated salt that works at lower temperatures than regular rock salt and can be applied in lower quantities. Less salt on the roads means less salt running into the lake.
The way the salt shifts the lake’s chemical composition can lead to toxic blue-green algae blooms, so it’s worth it for lakeside communities to make the switch.
Nutrients from fertilizers, such as phosphorous, can also promote the growth of harmful plant and animal life in the lake.
State law bans the use of phosphorous fertilizer within 20 feet of a lake, except under certain conditions.
The town and village of Lake George and the town of Queensbury have gone further. Fertilizer with phosphorous is banned anywhere within the town or village of Lake George. In Queensbury, its use is banned within 200 feet of the Lake George shoreline, while the use of any fertilizer is banned within 50 feet of the shore.
We support the stricter measures enacted by the lakeside communities and urge other communities that border Lake George and Lake Champlain to pass similar restrictions. This is not an academic issue, concerning an arbitrary standard of environmental purity. These are practical measures to maintain the health and appearance of a lake from which we draw water and which attracts the tourists that are the lifeblood of our economy.
Finally, we must continue unabated the battle against invasive species. Even though measures such as the boat-washing stations are expensive and labor-intensive, it is much easier and less expensive to take such preventive steps than it is to try to rid the lake of invasive colonies that have already taken hold.
We have been encouraged to see the state putting more resources into this fight, although we think much more in the way of funding.
The state has a multimillion-dollar fund, the Environmental Protection Fund, which was established to fight environmental threats such as invasive species. Many millions have been drawn from the fund over the past several years for land acquisition.
Now it’s time for the state to protect the land it has — not just any old land but a world-class lake, 32 miles long and renowned for its beauty. Statewide, there is no higher environmental priority than protecting Lake George.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Terry Coomes, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representative Mike Sundberg.