Study Finds Lake George in Good Shape but at Risk

August 18, 2014
Stephen Williams

Lake George is in “remarkably good condition” but faces threats including rising salt levels and increasing aquatic plant growth, according to a new 30-year study.

Development around “The Queen of American Lakes” bears much of the responsibility for the negative changes, the report found, but it said that active management can help maintain the lake’s current quality.

Over the coming decades, increasing pressure from development, use, and a changing climate will challenge the lake’s natural resilience,” the report said.

The report, “The State of the Lake: Thirty Years of Water Quality Monitoring on Lake George,” was released Thursday by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute and The Fund for Lake George.

Any significant deterioration of the narrow 32-mile-long lake could cause major harm to the tourism economy of the southeastern Adirondacks, since the mountain-enclosed waters are at the heart of $500 million in annual visitor spending in Warren County. Millions of dollars have already been spent at the lake to fight invasive species like Asian clams and water milfoil.

The new report compiles and analyzes lake monitoring done between 1980 and 2009 by scientists, technicians and students at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, which is located in Bolton Landing. Scientific monitoring began in 1980 because of concerns about how development around the lake was effecting the waters.

Since 1980, researchers found that salt levels in the lake have tripled; the amount of phytoplankton has increased, which could lead to oxygen depletion for fish and other aquatic life; and water clarity has declined slightly.

Also, researchers said that some of the sand that is mixed with salt as a winter road treatment reaches the lake and contributes to the formation of near-shore deltas that provide habitat for Asian clams and other invasive species.

The report urges active management of the lake watershed to reduce runoff, especially those types of runoff that contain plant nutrients. Nutrients such as phosphorous can come from storm water runoff, failing septic or sewage systems, and any runoff that contains fertilizer.

The lake will require sustained vigilance to act on every opportunity to reduce nutrient loadings, especially of phosphorous,” the report concludes.

Officials said the monitoring program done by the Fresh Water Institute represents one of the longest and most consistent sets of lake chemistry data in North America — making it useful for assessing long-term changes in temperate lakes worldwide.

Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George, said the findings lay the groundwork for further work to be done by The Jefferson Project research team.

The Jefferson Project, announced a year ago, is a multimillion-dollar, multiyear advanced technology research effort involving a partnership of RPI, the Fund for Lake George and IBM.

Aquatic survey crews this spring completed the first detailed bathymetric survey of the lake bottom.

The Jefferson Project is expected to use advanced data analytics, computing and data visualization techniques, new scientific methods, 3-D computer modeling, and historical data to gain what officials believe will be an unprecedented scientific understanding of the lake’s ecology.

We see it as really being a model others can look to for world-class lake research,” Siy said.

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