The election last night in Lake George was a referendum on protecting the lake and the lake won. Last night, the team that was swept into office in 2011 on a platform of real change in town government built around protection of Lake George was handily re-elected.
Dennis Dickinson won as Supervisor and Marisa Muratori and Dan Hurley won for the Town Board. Dickinson and Muratori narrowly lost the Republican primary in September, but were elected on the Reform Party line. This is the second time that Muratori has been elected on a third party line. Hurley was elected as a Democrat.
Back in 2011, this group called for a mandatory boat control program on Lake George to combat aquatic invasive species while running for office. Dickinson talked openly of the need to “lock up the lake.” Once elected they kept up this refrain and other local leaders followed their lead and the movement for a mandatory boat control program on Lake George saw local government leaders out in front of state environmental agencies and officials, and even some environmental groups.
In addition to boat control, this team has been serious over the last four years in testing and upgrading the municipal water and sewage systems. They professionalized the town code enforcement office and changed the Planning and Zoning Boards where many members had served for decades. They also organized an effort for a new town Comprehensive Plan. Importantly, one core principle of the town’s new efforts has been to get serious about stormwater pollution.
It’s noteworthy that local government leaders in Lake George can run unabashedly for stronger environmental protections and win.
The group that ran against Dickinson, Muratori and Hurley this year was an old line Republican unity ticket. Their core message was “property rights.” They talked of taking back the town. One of their initial campaign positions stated that Lake George local government leaders should not be involved in lake protection matters.
The successful boat control program for Lake George is important, but another major challenge is to vastly improve stormwater management around the lake to reduce pollution and protect water quality.
Lake George has many challenges, as do many lakes across the Adirondacks. A major effort is now underway around Lake George to curtail salt pollution. A 30-year trend line for Lake George shows salt levels nearly tripling.
This is the same story across the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Lake Assessment Program, managed by the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College and Protect the Adirondacks, has compiled data for dozens of Adirondack lakes that shows rising chloride and sodium levels due to road salt pollution. Lakes with long stretches of highways close to shorelines and those with large amounts of developed and impervious areas on lakeshores experienced the highest salt pollution levels.
The focus on salt pollution is important. Changes to winter highway di-icing to use less salt, or no salt, to invest in substitutes to salt, invest in new technologies for winter de-icing equipment, or new strategies for de-icing are all on the table. Hopefully, work in the next few years will lead to a new way to keep roads safe in the winter that use much less road salt or none at all.
It’s important to bear in mind that salt pollution in a lake is not a singular event. Lakes with high levels of salt pollution are also having other problems, though the lake’s ecology may mask them. Salt levels in a lake build up over time because a lake does not utilize salt. Nothing eats salt. Nothing uses salt to grow. Other pollutants, such as the nutrient phosphorus at high levels, can change a lake dramatically.
Stormwater is the key delivery system for loading salt to a lake. Stormwater loads a lot more things that just salt, specifically large amounts of nutrients and other pollutants. The chief problem facing Lake George, and many other lakes and ponds throughout the Adirondacks, is stormwater pollution from a variety of residential, commercial and municipal sources. Across the Adirondacks many communities developed along the shores of lakes and ponds, as these were the historic transportation corridors. Roads often followed rivers through valleys. In recent decades lakeshores have seen steadily more intensifying development with ever larger homes, extensive driveways and secondary buildings, expansive green lawns highly maintained with fertilizers and pesticides, and all done with often completely inadequate stormwater controls.
In addition to residential and commercial structures, local roads also generate a lot of stormwater during rainstorms. Much of the stormwater generated from roads flows directly into streams or a lake, often by design. For a highway engineer the top concern is getting water off of roads as quickly as possible when it rains for public safety; where it goes is a lesser concern. Many Adirondack communities are saddled with a legacy of poorly designed local roads, many that came into being hundreds of years ago.
The highly visible boat control program on Lake George led to a public demand around the Adirondacks for greater protections against aquatic invasive species. While many efforts had long been underway across the Adirondacks, such as the successful Lake Stewards program at Paul Smith’s College, last summer saw the first Park-wide effort to operate a network of boat inspection and decontamination stations and lake stewards at the most popular boat launches. A new state law will make these practices commonplace across New York in the years ahead.
Last night’s election in Lake George was a win for the lake. I think it’s also a hopeful sign that we’re seeing a burgeoning focus on stormwater pollution. Getting serious about stormwater pollution means major changes for the way that local governments and state agencies regulate development and for management and design of roads. We’ll be fortunate, indeed, if the same pattern we saw with stepped up aquatic invasive species control plays out with new stormwater controls to protect the extraordinary lakes across the Adirondack Park.