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Evening on Lake George

Mist rises from Lake George on May 7 in Bolton Landing. 

Lake George’s water quality has improved in some areas and declined in others, a new report analyzing nearly four decades of research shows.

Salt and nutrients may be a lurking threat, but the lake is seeing a rebound from the impacts of acid rain, according to the study.

The study is run by the Offshore Chemistry Program, part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute. The program has monitored Lake George’s waters for 37 years and its findings were published Thursday in the journal, Limnology and Oceanography.

“Thanks to that long-term commitment, we have discovered that the deep waters of the lake are fairly resilient to human impacts,” said Rick Relyea, director of the Darrin Freshwater Institute, in a news release. “This insight has shifted our research focus from the deep water to the shallow water, streams and wetlands, places that are probably a lot less resilient and where most of the human impacts are being felt.”

Some water-quality measurements that have increased in Lake George over the years include:

  • Orthophosphate, a chemical associated with failing septic and wastewater treatment systems, has increased 70%;
  • Chlorophyll, the pigment that gives algae its color, rose by 32%;
  • Calcium, a nutrient that invasive clams and mussels need to build their shells, increased 14%;
  • Salt, likely from roads, has tripled.

Some water-quality measurements that have decreased include:

  • Sulfate, a chemical associated with acid rain, declined by 55%;
  • Nitrate, also associated with acid rain, declined by 54%.

The report suggests that amendments to the Clean Air Act that helped reduce acid rain have improved the water quality of Lake George.

Researchers also highlight that “no similar mechanism has been established to tackle climate change,” though Lake George’s waters have warmed each year.

“Taken together, the OCP (Offshore Chemistry Program) tells us that in nearly 40 years of human activities, the lake has changed in a number of ways, often not in good directions,” Relyea said. “These changes have been relatively small, but they serve as a wake-up call. We have the ability to adjust our impacts on the lake and restore it to a more pristine condition.”

The water-quality report is also partially funded by The Jefferson Project at Lake George, which includes RPI, The Fund for Lake George and IBM Research.

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