The water of Lake George is rated as drinking water quality, which is no small feat for a lake of this size and with such heavy usage. The water remains clean and clear for several reasons. We have no industry or commercial agriculture on the shores, and the many springs on the lake’s bottom constantly feed it with clean water. Lake George is also unique in that it has its own state regulatory body, the Lake George Park Commission (LGPC), created in 1988 to protect the lake and safeguard the people who use it.
But one of the most important factors is the commitment of municipalities, organizations and residents to protecting the waters of Lake George. I know this first-hand, not only as a resident and grassroots activist, but also through my involvement with the Lake George Association, which was founded in 1885 as the first lake conservation organization in the U.S.
In terms of grassroots advocacy, Lake George is fortunate to have a strong coalition of activists working to protect it. In early 2021, after having had little success in getting the LGPC to implement septic system inspections, this coalition asked the towns along the lake to pass resolutions urging the LGPC to take on this task. After all, they argued, the authorizing legislation puts the responsibility for regulating wastewater discharge squarely in the hands of the Park Commission.
The commission, … shall adopt, after public hearing,… rules and regulations for the discharge of sewage or treated sewage effluent onto the land or into the
groundwater of the park to ensure optimum protection of ground and surface waters within the park.
Although this directive had been on the books for decades, it had never been carried out. In July of 2021, however, after receiving the towns’ resolutions, the LGPC established an ad hoc septic inspection program committee. From then on, things moved quickly. In early 2022, the full Park Commission and then the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health approved the draft regulations. They are now in the public comment phase until November 30. Whether or not the LGPC would have acted so quickly to establish septic inspection regulations if the towns had not stepped in is open for debate. But it certainly seems that the grassroots activism and the towns’ resolutions were a catalyst in the process.
The grassroots coalition also published a book in the spring of 2022 about Lake George protectors entitled Stewards of the Water. The book’s chapters profiles well-known stewards of yesteryear, including Seneca Ray Stoddard, John Apperson, Frank Leonbruno and others as well as stewards of today, including the towns, the LGPC and the LGA. The coalition held a series of events in towns around the lake to promote the book and raise awareness about past and present stewards. And most importantly, they provided residents and visitors with concrete actions they can take to be the lake stewards of today and tomorrow.
The Lake George Association (LGA) works tirelessly to raise awareness about threats to water quality and to help homeowners, businesses and municipalities learn what they can do to protect the lake. One example is LGA’s leadership in helping towns reduce road salt usage, not only by sharing expertise but also by assisting them in purchasing the technology and equipment they need to keep roads safe while using less salt. Chris Navitsky, the Lake George Waterkeeper, has called road salt the acid rain of today. The Town of Hague, an early adopter of road salt reduction, has saved more than $100,00 in recent years by reducing the amount of salt it buys. It also brines its roads before a storm, hindering the snow and ice from sticking. It even bought its own equipment to make brine, aided by a grant from the LGA. The brine costs eight cents a gallon when they make it – compared to 36 cents if they buy it.
The LGA also is also forming a ring of protection around Lake George by encouraging homeowners and businesses to report to them issues they see, such as shoreline erosion or stormwater runoff. The LGA then sends technical or scientific staff to investigate and propose solutions. They also show homeowners how to collect lake water samples on a regular basis for analysis in a lab or how to identify and report Harmful Algal Blooms or invasive species. In addition, they educate homeowners about proper maintenance of septic systems and even help them obtain low-interest loans or grants for repairs or replacement.
Along with IBM and RPI, the LGA is a partner in the Jefferson Project, which has installed a vast network of sophisticated sensors throughout the Lake George watershed. The data from these sensors is continuously analyzed by powerful computers, providing a clearer understanding of factors that affect the lake’s ecosystem. The project is not only helping Lake George but will be a blueprint for protecting other bodies of freshwater around the world.
We on Lake George consider ourselves lucky. With so many individuals, government entities and organizations committed to working together to protect the Queen of American Lakes – as Thomas Jefferson referred to it in 1791 – there is reason for hope that these waters will remain clean and clear for our children, our grandchildren and the many generations to come.
Photo at top by Ginger Henry Kuenzel