New studies by the U.S. Geological Survey confirm arguments that Lake George conservation organizations and agencies have made for years: development threatens the aquatic life of streams.
“We learned that there is no ‘safe zone,’ meaning that even minimal or early stages of development can negatively affect aquatic life in urban streams,” said Tom Cuffney, a USGS biologist.
“When the area of driveways, parking lots, streets and other impervious cover reaches 10 percent of a watershed area, many types of pollution-sensitive aquatic insects decline by as much as one third, compared to streams in undeveloped forested watersheds,” said Cuffney.
Native fish also decline in streams even at low levels of development, levels historically considered safe for stream life, the studies found.
“The studies validate the findings of our Lake George Stream Assessment Project, initiated three years ago by Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky, namely, that land uses impact the health of our streams,” said Peter Bauer, the executive director of the Fund for Lake George.
“We know from the sites we sampled that streams decline in water quality as they pass through areas that are more heavily developed,” said Bauer.
“These studies show that we need to be careful,” said Emily DeBolt of the Lake George Association, which operates a stream biology monitoring program for volunteers.
While even the most developed watersheds within the Lake George basin are not yet urbanized, protection of existing stream corridors should be a priority, said Bauer and DeBolt.
According to the USGS, the studies examined the effects of urbanization on algae, aquatic insects, fish, habitat and chemistry in urban streams in nine areas across the country.
“As a watershed becomes developed, the amount of pavement, sidewalks and other types of urban land cover increases. During storms, water is rapidly transported over these urban surfaces to streams. The rapid rise and fall of stream flow and changes in temperature can be detrimental to fish and aquatic insects. Stormwater from urban development can also contain fertilizers and insecticides used along roads and on lawns, parks and golf courses,” the USGS said.
The Lake George Park Commission is authorized by New York State law to protect stream corridors within the Lake George watershed, said Mike White, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission.
The Commission has drafted regulations that will limit construction and the cutting of trees and vegetation within 35 feet of a tributary of Lake George.
The regulations are currently under review by the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform. Once that office approves the draft, a series of public hearings will be held, said White.
“Stream buffers are the most efficient way to protect the water quality and ecology of streams, and regulations are the only effective way of preserving those buffers,” said Peter Bauer.
“Once a buffer is disturbed, it’s very difficult to restore it to its original function,” Bauer said.
Investing in stream corridor protection is also an investment in the water quality of Lake George, he said.
“One half of all the water entering Lake George comes from streams,” said Bauer. “The fate of Lake George is tied inextricably to the health of its streams.”
Photo: Lake George Stream Assessment monitors, 2008.
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