The state Department of Environmental Conservation made an interesting announcement Monday. An Adirondack pond where native brook trout had been wiped out decades ago by acid rain had seen the fish return. And they had not only returned, but had established a wild, breeding population.
Lake Colden, located at nearly 2,800 feet of elevation in the High Peaks Wilderness of Essex County, has three generations of brook trout that appear to be thriving in waters that were devoid of brookies less than a decade ago. A lake tributary has brook trout as well.
Brook trout, the state's "official" fish, need cold, clean water to survive, and acid rain in the 1960s into the 1980s rendered dozens of Adirondack ponds uninhabitable to them. Higher elevation areas were hardest hit.
The Clean Air Act helped slow the Midwestern power plant emissions that were blamed for much of the problem, and waters around the Adirondacks have begun to recover. Lake Colden, in the High Peaks of Essex County, was found to have no brook trout during surveys from 1987 through 2011.
Water samples from Lake Colden and 51 other designated Adirondack Long-Term Monitoring (ALTM) lakes are collected and analyzed several times per year. Since summer 1992, Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation (ALSC) staff have conducted the field, laboratory, and public posting of data in collaboration with ALTM partners. The ALTM partnership and monitoring efforts continues and more information can be found at DEC's website. Lake samples are tested for pH and other related water chemistry parameters. In recent years, samples have shown that the water quality was improving.
Using DEC-derived information in August, ALSC staff sought and observed small brook trout in a tributary to Lake Colden while collecting water samples. DEC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife followed up by hiking in nets and electroshocking equipment in September to sample fish populations in the lake and its tributaries. During sampling, DEC discovered the lake contained a viable and healthy population of three generations of brook trout and found brook trout in a tributary.
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ALSC had been preparing to recommend that DEC begin stocking the lake with brook trout as water quality improved.
The Lake Colden watershed extends to 5,114 feet of elevation near Algonquin Peak. The 38-acre lake is located between Mount Colden, near Avalanche Lake, the McIntyre Range, and Mount Marshall amid some of the most scenic parts of the Adirondacks. Anglers willing to make the long hike to Lake Colden to fish for this newly discovered brook trout population should know that the use of baitfish is prohibited in the lake.
While the Lake Colden discovery is obviously good knows in the effort to reverse acid rain's impact, the Adirondack Council last week sounded an alarm about rollback of the environmental regulations that helped undo the effects of acid rain. Clouds rolling east from the Midwest have become more acidic since 2017, a study found.
"This progress is threatened by the constant assault from the Trump Administration on clean air and environmental programs," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a news release.
-- Don Lehman