Almanack Contributor Ry Rivard

Ry Rivard


Friday, November 13, 2020

Harmful algal blooms found on Lake George, Mirror Lake

In an unfortunate coincidence that may be no coincidence at all given the warm temperatures, two of the region’s famed lakes have been partly covered by harmful algal blooms in the past several days.

The first is Lake George, which hadn’t had a confirmed algal bloom on its surface.

The second is Mirror Lake, the lake at the center of the Village of Lake Placid. This algal bloom could also be a first for that lake.

I’ve been writing about the potential for harmful algal blooms to strike Adirondack lakes over the past year, starting with a look at the worst case scenario, which is what years of runoff have done to Lake Champlain. That story include a quick primer on what we’re talking about:

» Continue Reading.


Monday, November 9, 2020

The ups and downs of the Saranac River

Over the summer, long before any hint of fall and far before the fall of snow, I spent a while on the phone talking about the ups and downs of the Saranac River.

The Saranac was dammed way back in the late-1700s and hasn’t been the same since. Now, a series of dams along the river cause dramatic changes in the flow and elevation of the river. Those changes, the ones that started over 200 years ago and continue to this day, upend the lives of fish and insects in the river and make it hardly the sort of wild river it at first may appear.

» Continue Reading.


Friday, October 30, 2020

Rivers and Dams

Over the past several months, I’ve begun to explore the role that dams play in the Adirondacks.

There are about 750 in the North Country. About 30 are a hazard with known safety problems. That’s the worrying part about dams.

But, at the moment I write this, about 21 percent of the state’s power is coming from some dam or another, making hydroelectricity one of the cleaner sources of power available.

“Cleaner” — not necessarily greener.

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The EPA, a gorilla in the closet

I’ll have more reporting that involves the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but here are a few key concepts:

The first head of the EPA, a Nixon appointee named William Ruckelshaus, said the newly-created agency was meant to be a “gorilla in the closet.”  As he explained in an oral history:

The belief was that the states had enough interest and infrastructure to enforce these laws. If they also had this “gorilla in the closet”–that is, the federal government, which could assume control if the state authorities proved too weak or inept to curb local polluters–the states would be far more effective. That’s the theory. Prior to EPA, there was no federal oversight. There was no “gorilla in the closet.” Absent that, it was very hard to get widespread compliance.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Reporting for the future

I recently marked my first anniversary at the Explorer.

One of the interesting things about working for a magazine is thinking about how to tell stories that will stick around and still be news for a while. Since the magazine comes out once every two months, the stories in it ought to last at least as long as the time between issues.

A lot of journalism gets a bad rap as “clickbait” and transitory. This isn’t a new complaint — Schopenhauer compared journalists to barking dogs — nor is it particularly accurate, since most people I know are trying to work on something they can stand back and admire at the end of their careers. But it’s certainly true that much of what gets our attention, especially these days, is something that changes from one day to the next, or from one hour or one minute to the next.

» Continue Reading.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Making the case for water reporting

You care about the Adirondacks, its woods, waters and people. That’s why you’re reading the Explorer (and its sister site the Adirondack Almanack), on top of everything else going on in the world.

Like the park, the Explorer is a special place. Last year, it hired me to come write about water — so abundant here we might just take it for granted.

As beautiful and seemingly protected as that water is, I’ve reported how that beauty and those protections only run so deep. There’s pollution we can’t see and problems we haven’t fixed, like the contamination caused by road salt or the sewage slowly fouling up Lake George.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Reporter’s notebook: ‘Climate change is water change’

Boreas River headwaters. Photo by Phil Brown 9/5/16.These weekly emails are supposed to come “out of the notebook,” a journalism term for something in my notes that hasn’t made it into a story.

Right now, I’m still working on my next stories and it’s hard to say what in my notebook will or won’t make it. So, let me share a few concepts that are important to our coverage here, particularly mine.

First, since I spend my time writing about water, I think a lot about what climate scientist Brad Udall says: climate change is water change.

 

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

When the water turns green

A handful of harmful algae blooms have struck the Adirondacks this summer, according to state environmental regulators.

Many blooms are inconvenient and ugly, but some are the product of toxic cyanobacteria that are often called and mistaken for algae. Without lab results, it’s impossible to know which is which, but officials tend to err on the side of caution now.

Inside the park’s boundaries, the state has identified five blooms it labels harmful, meaning not just icky but risky for people swimming in or drinking from the water. That figure, though, is sort of an undercount because it doesn’t include other blooms along Lake Champlain that are tracked by officials in Vermont.

separate bloom tracker for Lake Champlain shows a series of blooms along the edge of the Adirondacks and the lake, though the ones happening now have been labeled “generally safe.”

» Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 29, 2020

A salty subject

This past Tuesday, the Explorer hosted our first public event of the COVID era — a Zoom panel discussion with Dan Kelting, the head of the Adirondack Watershed Institute of Paul Smith’s College.

We focused on something Kelting has been studying for a decade and I’ve been reporting on all year: road salt and what it does to drinking water supplies in the Adirondacks.

Kelting dived into the issue years ago, first to roundup what was known about road salt pollution elsewhere and then to find out what it was doing to the Adirondacks. In sum, too much salt running off roads ends up in waterways. There, it harms humans by messing with heart and kidney function, destroys plumbing and upends ecosystems.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, August 17, 2020

Road salt and lawsuits

When Americans try to work something out but fail, we head to court.

But that option isn’t available for many long-suffering New Yorkers with water made undrinkable by road salt.

Road salt has been a known threat to the environment and human health for decades. Yet, the state of New York, which applies about as much per mile of roadway as any other state, depending on the year, has done little to prevent, clean up or truly quantify much of the problem.

That has stood out to me in several months of reporting on how road salt is fouling up water in and around the Adirondacks. The scale of the problem is so uncertain that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers may have salty water without even knowing it.

But when they do find out, they have a heck of a time trying to make things right.

» Continue Reading.


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.

» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Water, water everywhere, but still the need to conserve

Colleen rows the boat on Long Lake by Alexandra RoalsvigWhile recent rains have helped some parts of the Adirondacks, other parts are stuck in a dry spell that began with the mild winter.

On Tuesday, the Town of Long Lake told residents to stop washing their cars and watering their lawns to conserve water.

Long Lake’s water superintendent, Keith Austin, said a dry spell left the town unable to keep up with current demand. The system serves about 800 full-time residents and a seasonal population of 2,000 people in a typical year.

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 9, 2020

Check your flood risk

New national maps suggest flood risk is far higher than most people realize, in New York and across the country.

In some Adirondack counties, thousands more properties are considered at risk of flooding than federal flood estimates have shown, according to data by First Street Foundation, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit.

The group released a simple online tool, called Flood Factor, that lets people look up their flood risk by address. The website is part of a growing body of work by data scientists trying to reckon with the risk of disasters, like floods and fires, that occur at the boundary of development and nature.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Report puts focus on Upper Hudson

When people talk about the Hudson River and its problems, my mind immediately goes to the GE cleanup of toxic waste around Fort Edward and Hudson Falls.

There are problems closer to home, though. The river, after all, begins atop Mount Marcy. It flows off as Feldspar Brook and turns into the Opalescent River before becoming the Hudson.

All along the 7.5 million acres that drain into the river before it reaches Troy, the part known as the Upper Hudson, are threats to the river and its natural flow. The lingering effects of acid rain that make fish dangerous to eat. Road salt. Eroding stream banks. The habitat disruption caused by even small dams.

» Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Tracking the salt

snow plow courtesy DOTOver the past several months, as we’ve investigated road salt pollution in homeowners’ water, we’ve been keeping an eye out for lab tests that show salt getting into town and village water supplies.

It stood to reason that since road salt can run off roads into private wells, it could also get into water supplies used by larger public drinking water systems.

But tracking the spread of salt is complicated because of uneven testing by public water systems across upstate New York. The state’s Department of Health decides which contaminants public water suppliers have to test for each year.

» Continue Reading.



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