The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation (ALSC) have announced the confirmation of brook trout in Lake Colden in the Adirondack High Peaks.
Considered fishless for decades due to the negative effects of acid rain, the discovery of the brook trout population in Lake Colden is being attributed to improved water quality directly resulting from state and national standards to prevent the airborne pollutants that cause acid rain, notably sulfur dioxide.
According to data from the from the Whiteface Mountain Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, part of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, there has been a 90% reduction in sulfur dioxide deposition in the Adirondacks since 1995. That reduction is now under threat, according to advocates, who say that the Republican administration of Donald Trump is rolling back protections against pollution from mid-western coal fired power plants. Those plants contribute to the Adirondack Park’s acid rain problems.
The Lake Colden brook trout discovery is believed to be the first time a sustaining fish population has been recorded in a high-elevation (2,764 feet) Adirondack lake previously determined to be unable to host fish due to acid rain impacts. High-elevation lakes and their brook trout populations were severely impacted by acid rain.
How Air Quality Impacted Lake Colden’s Brook Trout
Acid rain comes in many forms – rain, snow, sleet, hail, and fog (wet deposition), and as deposits of acid particles, aerosols, and gases (dry deposition). Acid rain is formed when sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) combine with moisture in the atmosphere to produce sulfuric acid and nitric acid. Several sources that contribute to creating acid rain include the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas, wood, etc.); emissions from motor vehicles, airplanes, power plants, and industries; and emissions of SO2 and NOx carried atmospherically from the Midwest.
By the 1960s, scientists determined that acid deposition was devastating natural resources across New York. The Catskill and Adirondack Parks were particularly hard hit. Soils were becoming too acidic to maintain healthy forests with noticeable tree die-offs at higher elevations. Many lakes, mountain streams, and some rivers were unable to support healthy fish populations. Lake Colden was considered fishless after a 1987 ALSC survey caught no fish. Subsequent surveys in 2004 and 2011 also failed to catch any fish.
New York State began taking steps to control SO2 and NOx pollution in the 1980s, including the 1984 Acid Deposition Control Act. The state also successfully advocated for amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 to require federal controls of SO2 and NOx. DEC undertook additional actions in the 1990s and 2000s to reduce in-state sources of pollution through the Acid Deposition Reduction Program. As a result of these and other steps taken at DEC’s urging and by the ALSC, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) atmospheric deposition initiatives, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Markets Division, United States Geological Survey, Syracuse University, among many others, acid rain precursors are emitted at a significantly lower level than before 1985.
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, 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 had 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 what it considers a viable and healthy population of three generations of brook trout and found brook trout in a lake tributary. DEC is undertaking genetic testing to determine the origin of the brook trout population, which could be a native heritage. DEC Fisheries program staff are also monitor the brook trout population.
One of the highest ALTM sites, the Lake Colden watershed extends to 5,114 feet near Algonquin Peak. This 38-acre lake is located between Mount Colden, the McIntyre Range, and Mount Marshall amid some of the most scenic parts of the Adirondacks. Anglers willing to make the arduous hike to Lake Colden to fish for this newly discovered brook trout population must be aware the use of baitfish is prohibited in the lake.
Learn more about New York’s official State fish, the brook trout, on DEC’s website.
ALSC helps monitor changes to natural ecosystems of the Adirondack Mountain ecological zone with a focus on water quality, atmospheric deposition, fish surveys, and other biological and chemical studies. More information about their work can be found on ALSC’s website.
Photo of Brook Trout (from another location) by Greg Dower.
would they be native?
I don’t think that’s known yet. They could have been introduced.
Excellent news in any case!!!
Good news indeed. Its exciting to see the long term benefit of reducing air pollutants. This should only get better as we transition away from fossil fuels.
How long before somebody claims that “sportsmen” are being deprived the opportunity to enjoy this resource and that the lack of motorized access to Lake Colden is another example of the wealthy & healthy bias?
Hopefully it doesn’t happen but who knows. Colden was always a hike in destination, even during the early 20th century heydays.
Great news….not sure the author had to slam Trump to make their point. I wonder what impact on acid rain reduction is attributable to fracking. Not making a political statement here, just wondering.
A “slam”?? Seemed like a pretty mild statement of fact to me. Trump IS rolling back environmental protection everywhere energy lobbyists tell him to – and is proud of it because that is one thing he ran on. That is why several eastern states are now filing suits against the EPA. Would Trump ever hold back to make a point about anything?
I am not sure what you meant about acid rain reduction attributable to fracking.
Acid rain is caused by fuels with high sulphate, such as coal, being burned. Fracking has provided a much more efficient method of extracting low-sulphur natural gas, thus replacing coal as the primary source of electrical generation.
As for Trump and EPA, there has not been a reduction in any regulations CURRENTLY in place which, as the article validates, has been effective. Any change has been in regard to FUTURE regulations. The future regulations have a target of 2030 however the EPA has predicted emissions will actually fall far faster — by as much as 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — due to the market forces that are driving electric utilities away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables, without the regulatory additions. Hence, additional targets are no longer needed.
Scrubbers that are currently installed on many Midwest coal-fired plants have been switched off since you-know-who stated he was going to roll back Obama-era regulations and the EPA followed his lead. The scrubbers are not expensive to run, so why not use them? It’s all political posturing. Turn them on! Why should we or anyone suffer acid rain repercussions if it can be minimized??
The only rules that could apply to acid precipitation is the one pertaining to power plant startups/shutdown/malfunctions (a small fraction of a plant’s operating time) and the one reverting to a 2009 regulation which was in place during dramatic declines in SO2 emissions. SO2 emissions have been reduced to such a great extent that it’s possible that most of the remaining acid deposition in the Adirondacks will come China which is building dozens of coal fired power plants.
I’m not saying that the rule changes are good but they should not have any noticeable effect on acid rain specifically.
This might not last long with Trump’s attack on the environment. He is undoing all the good things that have been done for the environment.
Does anyone know if there are any invasive or warm-water fish in the lake at this time?
I certainly hope that this heralds a new beginning for the lake. I cannot imagine that someone from somewhere else caught a few breeders, hiked them over to Lake Colden and released them. This seems a bit senseless when it is well known to be acided out. It would be interesting to see the results from the sub-species identification, though.
This is tremendous news!! In my short lifetime I have been witness to geological time scale negative changes to our flora and fauna due to pollution. Extremely sad. This gives me a ray of hope that things can improve if given the chance through our care for the environment. It is a constant battle, however, since there are those that are always poised to turn paradise into a parking lot for buck! A beautiful, clear and secluded lake like Lake Colden should never be devoid of aquatic life!
Very exciting. Was it environmental regulations, or simply cheap natural gas replacing coal that led to SO2 reductions?
I guess the answer would be yes. Both have helped. But NG hasn’t replaced coal yet – especially in the Midwest. Any coal-burning plants that are still in operation will continue to spew toxins such as SO2 and Methyl Mercury. Scrubbers powered by the electricity the plants produce are quite effective in reducing these emissions, but only if they are switched on.
The current push to shift regulating agencies from federal to state is being fought by the downwind states. Despite more NG plants helping with overall emissions, coal is still being pushed for energy production. We have to decide for ourselves what is politics, what is science, what is practical, and what is harmful. Coal plants emissions help many states by supplying cheap energy, but at the cost of environmental harm to downwind states.
Nicely stated. Much appreciated.