BOLTON LANDING — Lake George lovers gathered Saturday to review projects done to protect water quality and map more initiatives for the future.
They packed a dark conference room at The Sagamore in Bolton Landing for The Fund for Lake George’s annual meeting. The Fund, one of several Lake George advocacy organizations, has invested over $1 million in 2017 on water quality projects.
“We, like you, are intensely, intensely passionate about this lake,” said Jeff Killeen, The Fund’s chairman for its board of trustees, to the crowd.
Lake George is a Class AA-Special water body, which means it’s a drinking water source and has specific protections to keep it that way. For example, no industrial or sewage waste can be discharged into Lake George.
The 32-mile long lake is one of the cleanest in the country, but it still has its share of challenges. Private and municipal water and sewer infrastructure in communities along the lake are aging and deteriorating. Winter applications of road salt have shown to run off into the lake. Invasive species, like Eurasian water milfoil, threaten recreation, as well as native species.
There are looming threats, too, including harmful algal blooms, or cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria look like algae, but have toxins that can make people sick. Lake George has had its share of algae, but officials say it has not had a cyanobacteria bloom...yet. Venetia Lannon, the state’s deputy secretary of the environment, said the state has invested in a harmful algal bloom action plan for the lake, and 11 others, in hopes that it will never have that problem.
Groups like The Fund, along with state and local partners, are tackling these water quality threats as they can.
For example, The Fund has a septic system upgrade matching grant program. The focus has been on Dunham’s Bay, which has been the site of some benthic algae blooms. So far, The Fund has invested $104,000 to help replace 14 septic systems, said Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky. The Fund’s Executive Director, Eric Siy, said that’s about 16 percent of the septic systems in Dunham’s Bay.
The Fund is also working with state and local officials to secure the $22 million needed for the village of Lake George’s new wastewater treatment plant. Siy said The Fund’s studies have shown the degrading plant to be the number one source of nitrate (a kind of nutrient) pollution in the lake. So far, about $7 million has been secured.
“This plant is scheduled to be replaced by 2021, and let me tell you, that will be a major cause for celebration,” Siy said.
The meeting’s keynote speaker, author and journalist Dan Egan, has written about water quality issues in the Great Lakes. Invasive species have plagued those water bodies, some of which are impacting Lake George, too. Zebra mussels and Asian clams, for example, have burrowed their way into the lake bottom. Boat washing stations are set up around the lake to keep vessels from transporting invasives from one water body to the next.
The Fund has also partnered with the IBM Corporation and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for The Jefferson Project, a kind of mapping and water quality monitoring system. John E. Kelly III, senior vice president of Cognitive Solutions and Research at IBM, explained that there are 52 platforms on the lake with over 500 sensors measuring over 300 million data points.
That data, combined with wind and weather patterns, can help scientists predict different water quality scenarios, Kelly said. It’s a developing project unlike any other in the world, and the three organizations hope by 2020 it can be replicated on other lakes.
The meeting showed that many are working hard to keep the lake clean. Besides protecting the staple attraction of a $2 billion tourism industry, protecting Lake George is a personal matter.
“We do it because Lake George is in our souls, as I know it is in yours,” Killeen said. “This lake has indeed cast a sweet spell on all of us. It refreshes us every day, even when we’re not here. It inspires us to never forget just how lucky we are to be here at Lake George. Our association with this lake really is a living legacy, for each of us, for our families and for generations yet to come.”