LAKE GEORGE The results of a study that monitored Lake George water quality over 30 years brought clarity and now an investment strategy targeted at three water quality threats. “The State of the Lake” report was released last year. A project by the Darrin Fresh Water Institute Offshore Chemical Monitoring Program jointly funded by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The Fund for Lake George, the report spans about 70 pages of dense science that points to three main threats to Lake George. The report states the lake is in a relatively good environmental state with 90 to 95 percent of the watershed remaining natural forest land, 46 percent of that stateowned foreverwild Forest Preserve.
This week, the Fund released two documents “State of the Lake: Chief Concerns as Revealed by Science” and “Fate of the Lake: A Blueprint for Protection,” which boil down the science the using infographics and outline concise solutions for tackling the threats of invasive species, rising salt levels and declining water quality and clarity.
“What this publication represents is as much an investor thesis and an investment prospectus as anything,” Fund Executive Director Eric Siy said. The Fund’s investment priorities, as part of its legacy strategy introduced in 2013, for this year include $783,000 for the Jefferson Project at Lake George, which will monitor lake characteristics in real time, and $1.09 million for priorities that fall under combating the three threats.
“The Jefferson Project will enable us to track our progress over time. This allows our approach to function like a feedback loop. As we take steps to curb negative trends, we can actually monitor the results of our efforts. We can see the results of the fruits of our labor that actually show the change in the trend line and benefits,” Siy said.
This blueprint includes securing dedicated funding to solidify the Lake George Park Commission mandatory boatwashing program, which is a twoyear pilot now, as a permanent program, and expanding the Save Lake George Partnership to include businesses and other key members in addition to the municipal conservation leaders on it.This strategy also includes an Adirondackwide partnership to form a regionwide invasives prevention program. This is important, Siy said, because water bodies surrounding Lake George have numerous invasive species. The greatest threats not in the lake yet are quagga mussels, which are in the Great Lakes, and hydrilla, which is in Cayuga Lake. The investment portion of this strategy includes dedicating funding to research on Asian clam and spiny waterflea and intensifying treatment to reduce Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake George to a lesser maintenance level. The Fund is setting aside $322,000 for a list of specific invasive efforts.
An estimated 8,000 tons of road salt are laid on the roadways in the basin each year for deicing. Salt concentrations in the lake about tripled between 1980 to 2009. The “State of the Lake” calls it the “acid rain of our time.” The 30year study also notes sulfate concentrates decreased substantially. “Sulfate levels have reduced, so concern about acidification has become less serous,” Siy said, due to the Clean Air Act amendments. Salt, researchers say, could make the water hazardous to drink for people with hypertension as well as affect water circulation and ecology.
“It’s really not comforting to think the salt is diluted in this big lake. There is so much salt being applied and thousands of tons a year. It’s not rocket science to know that this is undermining the natural health of the lake,” Siy said. The solutions include drafting a cooperative document to be passed by the members of the Save Lake George Partnership that will detail provisions and a timeline for salt reduction.
“Do we have areas we can have reduced salt? Are there options for improved equipment? Can we be calibrating the salt more efficiently, more effectively?” said Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky, adding that the discussion on salt spans the Adirondack Park, and a number of tools they can use to reduce salt getting into the lake will be spelled out in the memorandum of understanding among the Save partnership.
Water quality, clarity
The study highlights the importance of nitella, underwater meadows that consume excess pollutants in the lake such as phosphorus. The study doesn’t answer the question of whether nitella receded in 30 years, “That’s one of they key questions we need to answer. That has not been investigated since 1980s,” Siy said.
The study does note water clarity has decreased 6 percent and phytoplankton has increased 33 percent, which is problematic. Phytoplankton thrive on increased phosphorous from runoff, multiply, and block sunlight from feeding the nitella. Such nutrients come from fertilizers, wastewater, detergents and stormwater runoff.
According to the study, this goes back to stocked rainbow smelt, which feed on zooplankton, and lower the zooplankton population. Spiny waterflea also eats zooplankton and is found in Lake George. The loss of zooplankton removes a phytoplankton predator, causing that population to grow. This creates a vicious cycle because nitella consumes phosphorus, andas meadows recede, there is more phosphorus to feed phytoplankton. One of the measures in the blueprint includes a groundbreaking Low Impact Development Certification System, which would be voluntary. Navitsky said they’re at the draft stage of a scorecard for that. This could also include tax incentives, fasttrack application approvals and new regulations.
“It would be voluntary. It wouldn’t be regulatory, although we feel it could move into that, so we are drafting this scorecard and certification system. Our plan is to actually have a meeting with municipalities at the end of February so we can get their input on this,” Navisky said. “Number one, we want to make sure this works. We want to get buy in. We’re also working with some design engineers around here.”
Next week, Navisky is giving a presentation at a lowimpact development conference in Houston.
The strategy also includes providing grants for wastewater treatment plant upgrades and other initiatives.
Follow Amanda May Metzger on Twitter @AmandaWhistle and read her blog at www.poststar.com.