Water Quality and Property Values — A Clear Connection and Cause for Action

September 30. 2016
Chris Navitsky, PE, Lake George Waterkeeper

As recently reported by the Mirror, research at Lake Champlain shows that “a three-foot drop in water clarity yields a 37 percent depreciation for seasonal homes and a three percent loss for year-round single family homes.” Given current trends at Lake George, these findings could be our future.

For many, the superb clarity of Lake George has been taken for granted, as if it will always be that way because it always was. Using the past to predict the future actually reveals the opposite is true. Since 1980, Lake George has exhibited an overall loss in water clarity of 1.5 feet, halfway to the three-foot threshold where seasonal property values plummet on Lake Champlain. The message is as clear as our still pristine water; both the natural and economic value of Lake George can be expected to suffer without decisive action.

It was The State of the Lake: Thirty Years of Water Quality Monitoring on Lake George, published in 2014 by The FUND and RPI, that shined a bright light on the threats to Lake health. Not only did the study show a six percent decline in water clarity, it identified a 33 percent increase in phytoplankton, microscopic plant-like organisms living in surface waters and contributing to the loss of clarity. Increased phytoplankton is most likely the result of rising nutrient levels that stimulate plant growth. Growing volumes of inadequately treated wastewater from municipal and onsite septic systems combined with a failure to reduce stormwater runoff are literally feeding the problem.

With the lifeblood of a $2 billion annual tourism economy now at risk, we can (and must) reduce stress on the Lake’s natural systems to protect property values and our economy.

Similar to invasive species control, where Lake George is now a national leader, the best prescription for protecting water quality and clarity is prevention. Just as eradication of invasives is not possible once they get in the Lake, restoration and remediation rarely, if ever, return a waterway to its pristine condition.

Working with an expanding array of public and private partners, The FUND has harnessed scientific understanding and applied engineering practices to curb and even reverse present trends. In this pursuit, we are coupling targeted investments with pacesetting innovations. Since launching our Legacy Strategy in 2013—to stop the present decline of water quality and achieve sustained protection of Lake George for the next generation—The FUND has invested over $4 million toward this one driving goal. 

Our investments are aimed squarely at the multiple sources of the problem. Data collection and engineering analysis are informing direct grants from The FUND to spur urgently needed improvements of municipal wastewater treatment plants, especially at Lake George Village, a major source of nitrate pollution. In tackling wastewater discharges from outdated septic systems, The FUND is applying the same targeted approach. Starting at North Queensbury, The FUND is awarding matching grants to property owners for upgrading priority systems within the first wastewater management district on Lake George. This program has so far supported the installation of 12 new septic systems and the demand for grants now exceeds available resources. In the Town of Lake George, The FUND is co-managing as well as co-investing in a new town-wide septic initiative designed to identify and upgrade aging systems. This initiative will also engage other municipalities throughout the basin to facilitate similar actions that together will take us a long way toward solving a chronic problem.

On a parallel track, to stop stormwater runoff and pollution—the nation’s largest source of water quality problems and a growing threat to Lake George—The FUND created the Low Impact Development (LID) Certification System. Launched earlier this year, LID Certification prevents stormwater from forming and controls runoff at its source, before ever reaching the Lake. Designed for public and private development (both new and redevelopment projects) the empowering new system rewards property owners for implementing measures that protect the Lake and their property values.

The LID Certification website—lidcertification.org—guides property owners on how to become certified through a detailed scoring system in four main areas: protection, building, restoration, and maintenance. Here, too, demand is high and growing. The first two LID Certified projects were awarded to the Silver Bay YMCA and the Town of Bolton with more certifications in the pipeline.

By demonstrating how to protect our most valuable asset—clean, clear water—Lake George is leading by example. Our shared commitment today will secure what matters most tomorrow. 


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