LAKE GEORGE — The first year of mandatory boat inspections at Lake George saw more than 20,000 boats examined, according to the program’s final report.
A relatively small number of them — 165 — had visible signs of invasives on them, the report said — but more than 1,200 were decontaminated because they could have harbored invasive species.
The inspections took place between May 15 and Dec. 1, as the Lake George Park Commission ran a pilot program to prevent the introduction of new invasive species into the scenic lake that’s at the heart of the southeastern Adirondack economy.
Overall, officials consider the program to have been a success and well-received by the public, including those who had to spend a few minutes having their vessels inspected and perhaps washed.
“We’re very positive,” said park commission Executive Director David Wick.
There’s a scientific consensus that invasive species can damage natural environments, and their spread should be prevented whenever possible.
The inspection program finished the year about $32,000 under its $700,000 budget. Park commission officials believe staffing modifications can lower the cost to about $500,000 per year.
Last year was the first of a two-year pilot program, but commission officials — like most local officials and environmental organizations — have concluded an inspection program needs to be permanent if introduction of new invasives is to be prevented.
“When all the facts are tried regarding cost, risk, convenience and public support, the commission concludes that this program is meritorious for long-term implementation,” the annual report concludes.
The mandatory inspection program — the first of its kind east of the Mississippi River — was greeted with “resounding support from communities around Lake George, and even more importantly, the general boating public on Lake George,” the report said.
In all, 20,229 trailered boats were examined at six inspection stations to ensure they weren’t bringing in invasive species from another body of water. Of those, 1,264 were required to undergo hot water decontamination for not meeting the standard of being “cleaned, drained and dry.” There were 116 boats in which signs of invasives including Euroasian milfoil, zebra mussels, curly leaf pondweed, water chestnut and snail were visible.
Most inspections took place between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Wick said a future discussion will consider whether stations need to be staffed during April and November, since there are fewer boaters then and aquatic species are less active.
Boaters going through inspections were asked what body of water their boat was last in, and they identified 457 lakes and streams in the United States and Canada — with the farthest appearing to be Lake Mead, Nevada — but much of the western United States and Canada was represented, if by only one or two visiting boats.
“It’s pretty significant, the geographic range people are coming from,” Wick said.
The Hudson River, Saratoga Lake and Lake Champlain were the most common prior destinations; the commission noted that the Hudson and Lake Champlain each have more than 50 invasive species.
Lake George to date has only five invasive species, but efforts to control them have been costly. Nearly $2 million was spent over three years to try to control the Asian clam after it was first discovered in the lake in 2010.
The staffing and administration budget for the inspection program included $350,000 from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. $150,000 from Warren County, $50,000 from the village of Lake George, and $30,000 each from the towns of Lake George, Bolton and Queensbury, and the Fund for Lake George.
The same funding is set for 2015, but Wick said there will need to be discussions about future funding.
The success of the Lake George inspection program has led to discussion of launching a regional boat inspection program that would apply across the Adirondack Park, with inspection and decontamination stations at strategic entrances to the park.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation last year also established a new requirement that boaters self-inspect for invasive species before using DEC boat launches.