Over the past year, I’ve tried to gather data on the health of Adirondack lakes, despite major gaps.
So when a researcher emailed me out of the blue to say he’d just done a study of how lakes were recovering from acid rain and changing colors, I gave him a call.
The researcher, Paul Bukaveckas, is a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. But he was here a few decades ago studying the effects of acid rain on Adirondack lakes in the late 1980s.
His new research, which brought him back to 20 Adirondack lakes in recent years, helps confirm what a few people have started talking about: As lakes recover from the effects of acid rain they are turning browner. That’s a good thing, unlike the brown in other lakes that may be the result of pollution.
Bukaveckas said acid rain had bleached lakes via a chemical process that is not yet fully understood. The effect was to clear the natural brown color of organic material, like tannins. Now that the acid from acid rain is dissipating, those brown colors are able to express themselves.
A few days ago, we published a Q&A about acid rain, based on Bukaveckas’ recent work, the work of other researchers and some of our reporting over the past year or so.
Bukaveckas’ work is great, but it also highlights the gaps that exist between what we knew when he was first in the Adirondacks and what we know now. As acid rain declined, so did money for monitoring, which has caused gaps in what we know about the health of Adirondack waterways. That’s an issue we’ve also covered as other researchers and activists have pushed for a new major state-backed study of lakes, akin to the work that was done decades ago to establish how acid rain had changed lakes. Acid rain is obviously less of a problem, but climate change and pollution — from shoreline septics, road salt runoff and other contamination — are new threats.
Lake George Study
The Lake George Park Commission is going to study the pollution going into that lake from shoreline septic tanks.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of publicity in the basin recently concerning this. We want to get the facts down and see if there are any probable directions for the commission to go in,” Bruce Young, chairman of the state commission, said during a meeting last week, according to the Post Star.
Some of that attention has come from us. Earlier this year, our reporting pointed out that the commission was given the authority in 1987 to regulate wastewater going into the lake but today, some 30 years later, the Park Commission doesn’t have a single person working for it that regulates wastewater.
A study may not be enough for some around the lake, given that local governments have already begun approving their own regulations in the absence of state rules.
Dave Wick, the head of the Park Commission, wrote about the planned study in a recent Albany Times Union op-ed, calling Lake George one of the most highly protected in the country.
Photo: Water scooped from Twitchell Lake in the western Adirondacks shows a tint from matter in surrounding wetlands — a sign of what researcher Paul Bukaveckas says is recovery from former acidity. “Notice that it is not murky, just stained,” he says. Photo courtesy of Paul Bukaveckas
Editor’s note: This first appeared in our weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.