This story by Michael Goot appeared in the Post Star.
QUEENSBURY — Environmental officials hope the town of Lake George’s efforts to identify and fix failing septic systems will become a model for other communities.
The Lake George Septic Initiative involves conducting an inventory of problem septic sites and analyzing areas where there could be septic issues and compiling that information into a map.
Dan Barusch, director of planning and zoning for the town, said the program started a few years ago in response to algae blooms that were in the area of Diamond Point Road.
The town is compiling information reported by residents about how old the septic system is, when the last time it was pumped, whether it was approved or inspected and how close they are to the lake and streams.
“The original intent of this program, aside from the inventory, was to reach out to municipalities in the basin to try to get them on board with what we were doing,” he said Thursday at the Septic Summit at Great Escape Lodge in Queensbury. About 150 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the town and the Fund for Lake George.
The town, in December 2015, received a $104,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has enabled it to expand the scope of the project.
Phase I was the Diamond Point area, according to Barusch. Phase II is from Canon Point to Hearthstone Point. Phase III is from Hearthstone Point to English Brook and Phase IV is the east side of town excluding the Caldwell Sewer District.
The project began in April 2016 will take about 18 months to complete, according to Barusch.
The town is working with the Chazen Companies on the project. Paul Cummings, a planner with the firm, said among the criteria it is analyzing is the slope of the property, the depth to bedrock and seasonal high groundwater, distance to streams and water bodies, and whether samples have indicated the presence of nitrates or contaminants.
Cummings said all this information will be fed into the model that, when combined with the data from property owners, will develop a color-coded map to identify areas where there might be problems.
Preliminary findings include that there is a potential problem with metal septic tanks that could be corroded and leaking and some cesspools, according to Barusch. He said there is an estimated 10 percent of systems within 500 feet from Lake George and within 100 feet of streams that are in need of repair or complete replacement.
Corrina Parnapy, of the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District in Vermont, spoke about how algae blooms can determine the health of the lake.
“Algae is used reliably to determine water quality impacts — worldwide,” she said.
She has done sampling on Lake George. Organic waste issues have been found on Assembly Point, Oneida Bay, Silver Bay, Dunham’s Bay.
The problem in Dunham’s Bay led to the creation of a wastewater management district, which led to improvements in water quality.
Dave Warne, assistant commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, spoke about an agency program that offers grants to pay 50 percent to 100 percent of the cost for people to fix up their septic systems.
“The availability of funding provides a real incentive for self-reporting,” he said. “Nobody wants to have surfacing wastewater in their backyard. If they have an opportunity to get that addressed without incurring costs on their own or any regulatory penalties, they’re quite willing to come forward.”
He stressed that there is no one solution to combat septic issues because each site is different.
George Heufelder, of the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center, said people could make improvements in their septic systems that are not exorbitantly expensive.
“We have to start thinking outside the box. Otherwise, we’re going to buy these units we can’t afford to run,” he said.
Among some of the innovative ideas are composting toilets that remove a lot of the source of nitrates before it gets to the septic system.
Presby Environmental was showing off some of its passive treatment systems, which uses bacteria to remove contaminants from the wastewater as it goes into the leach field, according to Justin DaMore, a distributor for the company.
“It has no pumps and no moving parts,” he said.
Jack Bullard of Filtrexx explained the company’s SiltSoxx, which is a mesh tube that can be used as a barrier to protect culvert and other water bodies from runoff. The mesh allows water to pass through, but not sediment.
The idea for the forum came from Tom West, a member of the Fund for Lake George’s board of trustees.
“Everybody knows about septic systems being a problem in Lake George. I call it the elephant in the basin,” he said.
Fund for Lake George Executive Director Eric Siy said this is a way to bring all the parties in the room together to learn about these issues so the organization does not have to go out and make presentations to nine separate watershed communities.
“This lake is the heart and life-support system for our economy. We need to invest in its future,” he said.