The FATE of the Lake: Applying Latest Science to Achieve Lasting Results

Eric Siy
October 31, 2014
Special to the Lake George Mirror

Superlatives for Lake George are as a string of pearls—one of the cleanest, clearest large lakes in the world; the largest lake within the largest park in the continental United States; more than 90% of the watershed remains as natural forestland; pure waters designated as Class AA-Special drinking water quality; a “park within a park” with the 58,000-acre Lake George Park residing in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park; lifeblood of a billion dollar annual tourism economy; and more.
Yet, Lake George now faces the specter of permanent degradation. As presented in the recent four-part series of Mirror articles—The State of the Lake: Trend Analysis and Tipping Points—latest science shows a gathering storm of stressors on lake health. Securing The Fate of the Lake will require unprecedented commitments that apply scientific understanding to achieve lasting solutions.
Thirty years of water quality monitoring has revealed a complex, yet solvable, set of problems that includes: an alarming threefold increase in salt concentrations from road de-icing favoring blue green algae that can be toxic; measureable declines in water clarity with ensuing impacts on the lake’s Nitella meadows and the entire food web; increased nutrient loading from stormwater runoff, wastewater, fertilizer use, and land disturbance; significant increases in chlorophyll concentrations reflecting increases in algal growth; and invasive and introduced species stressing the lake’s native species and food web.
Scientific knowledge of the past generation provides an historic opportunity to protect Lake George for the next. Central to success will be concerted actions that unite all those with a stake in the fate of the lake. In fact, the critical path is already being forged. Broad resolve and shared investment produced the first mandatory invasive species inspection and decontamination program east of the Mississippi. The S.A.V.E. (Stop Aquatic inVasives from Entering) Lake George Partnership demonstrated what is now needed—diverse public and private interests acting in common purpose to uphold the natural, community, and economic values that make Lake George a world-class treasure.
Building on its success, S.A.V.E. has begun focusing on the need to put the lake on a low salt diet. In this crucial pursuit, S.A.V.E.’s meaning also expands—Salt Abatement is Vital to the Ecology of Lake George. Moreover, as strong as the invasives prevention program is at Lake George, S.A.V.E. members realize that similar strides are required across the Adirondack region and around the state to win the war on this fast spreading menace. Work is now underway to establish a region-wide prevention program and the larger partnership that will make this possible.
Whether from State of the Lake research findings or other sources, information and awareness are empowering the new generation of initiatives on behalf of Lake George. Knowledge is the great equalizer and mobilizer. Because threats now facing the lake are complex and interconnected, it will not be enough to address one or two issues alone. Science tells us this. Reversing present trends and preventing Lake George from slipping into a state of irreversible decline will require comprehensive commitments on all of the primary threats.
As the science also makes clear, Lake George remains remarkably healthy. Even at this late date, sustained protection of Lake George can be largely achieved through preventive measures, such as the invasives program, that reduce stress on the lake’s natural systems. This, in turn, strengthens the lake’s resilience to change over time.
Specific strategic investments and program innovations for converting scientific understanding into sustaining lake protection will be presented in the next issue of the Mirror. Almost as extraordinary as the lake itself is the opportunity to make Lake George a pace-setting example of how to keep it that way. The Fate of the Lake is now in our hands.

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