Lake George more resilient than scientists thought, but threats are still serious

This story appeared in The Post Star.

While gem-like glints sparkled across the late-morning peaks and splashes of Lake George, beckoning even the timid into her depths and shallows, several hundred lake enthusiasts packed into a conference room at The Sagamore resort on Saturday morning to hear about the health of the lake they love.

Perhaps buoyed by the recent news that higher than acceptable e-coli levels pushed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to close the popular Million Dollar Beach on Lake George numerous times, those attending discovered that things are pretty good for the 32-mile near-pristine lake.

The lake appears to be in better shape and is more resilient that we thought,” said Dr. John E. Kelly III, a senior vice president at IBM who is a member of the board of directors for The FUND for Lake George.

Kelly, one of many who spoke at The FUND for Lake George annual meeting, presented the science of the Jefferson Project at Lake George and shared what their network of lake sensors has been tracking.

The deep water is OK,” he said. “But salt levels in the shallows are high.”

The Jefferson Project team is made up of scientists, meteorologists, technologists, engineers and environmentalists from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, IBM Research and The FUND for Lake George.

The way Kelly explained it, the salt that comes from winter salt trucks washes into the streams.

Fish spawn in the streams and if we don’t take care of that, it will kill the lake,” Kelly said after the presentation, talking about several dangers to the lake, including e-coli, chlorophyll and salt. “The e-coli is a danger to humans, increased chlorophyll leads to algae blooms and salt means the death of organisms and eventually the ecosystem of Lake George.”

Kelly said they are now adding more sensors in the shallows to gather more information. The sensors, which are dropped into the water from various locations, track chemical, physical and biological processes and send the data to scientists.

In the past two years, the sensor network has transmitted more than 100 million measurements to supercomputers.

According to the data, the salt levels in the streams can be nearly 100 times greater in the shallows than in the deep water, and that’s why they are now concentrating on streams.

During his presentation, Kelly outlined the threats and the current initiatives to make sure the lake remains clear and viable for generations to come.

The primary issues The FUND and The Jefferson Project, along with partners, local government and associations, have been tackling include wastewater and storm runoff, salt and invasive species.

According to the Jefferson Project, surveys found 20 non-native species in Lake George — 11 fish, seven invertebrate animals and two plants — and five are considered invasive or harmful to the environment.

But starting in 2014, mandatory boat inspections have stopped thousands of invasive hitchhikers from entering the lake on algae trapped on the side of a boat. Since 2015, there have been 112,000 boat inspections at 71 locations. Of those inspections, 3,700 boats were intercepted and 1,300 decontaminated at 17 decontamination stations.

Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said they are committed to safely reducing road salt, and Lake George Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson agreed.

To this end, several communities have added what they call live-edge plows that use brine to keep roadways free from snow and ice. Additionally, high-tech trucks — equipped with black boxes that measure salt application rates and cameras that can take pictures of the roadways — give them data to help reduce salt and keep drivers safe.

Speakers addressed stormwater runoff and wastewater, labeling them as the biggest threats to the lake.

And that’s why hundreds of thousands of grant dollars have been allocated for new septic systems and improvements to the wastewater treatment plants in hopes of reducing their influence on the lake.

During the meeting, The FUND awarded more than $400,000 in grants: $250,000 to The Jefferson Project for smart sensor web and targeted research; $90,000 to the Lake George Park Commission for Lake George aquatic invasive species prevention and milfoil removal; $10,000 to the town of Bolton for improved de-icing practices and equipment; $10,000 to the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College for a salt groundwater study; $7,000 to the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College for aquatic invasive species prevention and preemption; $55,000 to North Queensbury Wastewater Management District for priority septic system upgrades; and $10,000 Rockhurst Wastewater Initiative for the establishment of a wastewater management district.

The meeting ended with several personal awards and a lifetime achievement award to Lake George Mayor Robert Blais.

FUND Board Chairman Jeff Killeen closed by saying they all do this to protect the lake.

We do this because Lake George is in our souls,” he said. “She has cast a sweet spell on all of us.”

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