Lake George MIrror
The New York State Assembly Minority Conference’s Task Force on Water Quality, which is co-chaired by local Assemblyman Dan Stec, convened in Lake George on Oct. 29 to gather facts, opinions and local wish lists.
The Lake George Association’s Walt Lender, Eric Siy and Kathy Flacke Muncil from The Fund for Lake George, Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky and Jamie Brown, executive director of the Lake George Land Conservancy, were among those who addressed the panel.
According to Dan Stec, the testimony of Lake George’s representatives and those of others who spoke, including the Supervisor of the Essex County town of St. Armand, Tom O’Connor of the Capitol Region Chamber and Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officers, will help shape the Republican conference’s agendas. If their proposals are adopted by the majority party, they may very well be enacted.
If there was one message and one message only the panel left Lake George with, it was this: send money.
Communities like St. Armand (and Lake George, Bolton and Hague) are expected if not required to modernize water and sewer infrastructure, but lack the tax basis to finance the multi-million dollar projects themselves.
“Increasing pressure from development, climate change, invasive species and other factors are causing water quality to decline. We must do everything we can to stop that and reverse it, by, among other things, improving wastewater treatment infrastructure,” said Walt Lender, the Lake George Association’s executive director.
“Additional public investment from New York State and federal programs are critical to continue this protection of water quality,” said Lender.
Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky noted that the growth of algae in Lake George can be attributed at least in part to nutrients from wastewater treatment systems, municipal and private.
“Your task force can assist us by, among other things, advocating increased funding for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act to replace onsite wastewater treatment systems,” said Navitsky.
Eric Siy, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George, told the panel that preventing the spread of invasive species, reducing the use of road salt, upgrading septic systems and initiating a pilot project at Bolton’s wastewater treatment plant had been made possible by partnerships among local and county governments, state agencies, not-for-profit organizations and businesses.
“Everything we're doing is through partnership. But that partnership needs to be underwritten. We need state funds and resources dedicated to supporting the implementation of measures to solve specific water quality problems,” said Siy.
Water treatment plants across New York State will require a $40 billion investment over the next twenty years if communities are to have access to clean, reliable drinking water, said Jamie Brown of the Lake George Land Conservancy.
Supplies of drinking water can be protected, and costs contained, by investing in land protection through the Environmental Protection Fund, said Brown.
“Protecting land within watersheds offers a cost-efficient and permanent solution to protecting water that also offers huge secondary benefits,” said Brown.
Failure to invest in infrastructure will have long-term consequences for the state’s economy, speakers said.
“Our waters are the lifeblood of our regional economy,” said Kathy Flacke Muncil, who chairs The Fund’s council of business advisors.
Eric Siy said fresh water algae blooms cost American communities more than $4 billion every year.
“If we don’t address this threat, school districts, towns and villages throughout the region will bear the costs,” said Siy.
Tom O’Connor, the Vice President for Government Relations at the Capital Region Chamber, said the region will lag in the competition to attract and retain businesses if it does not restore its water and sewer infrastructure.
“Much of infrastructure below the surface is more than 100 years old. When those systems fail, Main Street shuts down. Local tax payers cannot absorb the costs of replacing them. That will take an effort by the state and federal governments,” he said.
O’Connor urged the panel to renew the push for a state Republican initiative known as SWAP, an acronym for a Safe Water infrastructure Action Program.
It would provide predictable, annual funding streams to replace, repair or maintain aging water and sewer infrastructure.
“We think that would go a long way toward solving the infrastructure problem without putting additional burdens on local governments and tax payers,” said O’Connor.
Stec thanked the speakers for contributing their experience and knowledge to the Task Force’s deliberations.
“Collaboration is the key to solving any public policy crisis. Your expertise and voices are absolutely vital to our efforts to protect New York’s aquifers and water infrastructure,” said Stec. “I look forward to putting together a comprehensive plan to address the short-term and long-term problems our water resources, based on the input of those dealing with these issues every day.”