Friday, July 31, 2020

Trying to keep a lid on Lake George pollution

In the latest action trying to spare Lake George from turning green, the lake’s main regulatory agency is proposing new rules to curb runoff from lakeside development, including a ban on lawn fertilizer within 50 feet of the lake.

The Lake George Park Commission recently posted its new stormwater regulations, which have been several years in the making, and is accepting feedback for the next two months. Stormwater is the term environmental regulators use for rain and snowmelt that sweeps pollution into streams, lakes and the ocean.

The commission’s new regulations are an attempt to walk a political tightrope. The lake’s health has been in slight but steady decline for the past several decades – it is saltier, potentially less clear and more likely to harbor algae. Over the long term, these declines could threaten the lake’s reputation, along with property values and the entire tourism economy.

But stormwater regulations cause businesses, homeowners and developers immediate pain in the form of paperwork, compliance costs and new prohibitions.

That often means they can only go so far. The proposed regulations, for instance, do nothing to deal with runoff from leaking septic systems.

David Wick, the park commission’s executive director, said the commission didn’t have the “horsepower” to deal with that right now, though it supported other governments around the lake that have tried to crackdown on sewage running into the lake.

Instead, the stormwater regulations deal with pollution that runs across the surface of the land and towards the lake and its tributaries. Fertilizer is one no-brainer, since by its very nature it is designed to feed plants, including the algae and toxic cyanobacteria often called algae that most worry lakeside governments.

The commission estimates some of the regulations that require homeowners to curb runoff could cost up to $4,000. The commission describes that as only “a small portion” of the cost of any project that would trigger the regulations in the first place.

The smallest project that would trigger the new regulations is generally one that disturbs 5,000 square feet of land, which is about the size of two tennis courts.

The commission has regulated runoff into the lake since fall 1990, but the regulations haven’t been updated in over a decade.

The new rules are likely to face some opposition from being too lax.

“These proposed regulations fall well short of what is needed for long-term protection of water quality and the negative impacts that we are observing,” said Chris Navitsky, the Lake George Waterkeeper, a nonprofit watchdog paid for by the FUND for Lake George.

The regulations also have new requirements for logging around the lake.

The commission is also proposing to allow certain development dozens of feet closer to the lake than existing rules.

The commission is working on a separate but related set of rules that prohibit activity near streams.

The commission is accepting comments from the public through Sept. 27.

Editor’s note: This originally appeared in Ry’s weekly Water Line newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

Photo of Lake-George from Anthony’s Nose courtesy of Carl Heilman II/Almanack archive

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Ry is a reporter who covered water-quality issues for the Explorer.

3 Responses

  1. Landowner Who Cares says:

    There are still weak regulations on limiting pesticide, fertilizer and herbicide use on golf courses and palatial lawns, due to weak federal and state standards in general on their use. Also, several years ago I was given a tour of lakeside summer homes in the Huletts area, where there are multiple cottages and homes stacked up along rocky hillsides close to the lake. I was shocked to see “modern” elevated septic systems passing for legal, where obviously they would be engulfed in sudden heavy rain and runoff. Perhaps they are legal under present standards, but in reality anyone knowing about septic systems could see the potential for pollution of the lake. I doubt if anything has been updated in the last half dozen years since. Now there are further land subdivisions in similar rocky hillside locations overlooking the lake just north of there in Putnam, where if the same weak standards apply with reliance on septic systems, there will be more potential for polluted runoff. It seems that the state is under pressure to develop the Adirondacks by maintaining outdated environmental standards (while mouthing environmental support) and developers are taking advantage of the state’s reluctance to update standards. You can see the clusters of lakeside development at Huletts by entering Huletts in a Google search, and aerial photos will come up.

  2. Charlie S says:

    “The lake’s health has been in slight but steady decline for the past several decades – it is saltier, potentially less clear and more likely to harbor algae. Over the long term, these declines could threaten the lake’s reputation, along with property values and the entire tourism economy.”

    I like that second sentence….where have I heard that before? I could have told them this thirty years ago! And I’m a high school dropout!

    “Let us wait until the problems arise then we’ll deal with it!”
    “We must allow development so that we can create new tax havens.”
    > This is the language Lake George’s elected officials speak.

    “…some of the regulations that require homeowners to curb runoff could cost up to $4,000.”
    > Maybe we should get these guys now in Washington up this way so that they can deregulate, which they are professionals at. Surely the homeowners would love this as that would save them money. I mean after all, that’s what deregulation is all about right? Saving people with money, or polluters, money!

  3. Landowner Who Cares says:

    Additional comments to my first one. Lake George is the water supply for thousands of people, and it is a disgrace that more and more development is being proposed near the lake and overlooking hillsides with no effective plans to address the current or potential pollution from septic systems, pesticides, lawn chemicals, most of which are never tested for in the drinking water supplies. In addition, this pollution runs into Lake Champlain, a drinking water supply for tens of thousands. Lake Champlain currently is supposed to be cleaned up by both New York and Vermont. Why does NYS DEC Commissioner Basil Segos tolerate this and cater to developers when in his resume he was “Chief Investigator and Attorney for Riverkeeper; Associate at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).” And according to the Hudson Riverkeeper website “Riverkeeper protects and restores the Hudson River from source to sea and safeguards drinking water supplies, through advocacy rooted in community partnerships, science and law.” And, “Riverkeeper defends the Hudson River and its tributaries, and protects the drinking water supply of 9 million New Yorkers.”. Currently NY DEC is demanding that the EPA do more cleanup of the Hudson, but is allowing and encouraging more potential pollution right here in our own Lake George.

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