There’s something about the weather, particularly when it comes to hydrology, that creates an almost eye-rolling cycle of stories. If it’s not too dry, it’s too wet. With a changing climate, the normal also changes — for instance, while reporting a story on pollution running into Lake Champlain, I heard from officials on both sides of the lake that they’re seeing more rain and storms so intense they’re called “rain bombs,” a recipe for uncontrolled flashes of water that sweep pollution into the lake from fields and streets.
Some people notice all this. Others do not.
Two years ago, while I was reporter in the Southwest and had spent a few years covering a major drought, we had what seemed like an awfully rainy and cold winter for that part of the world. A few people I talked to regularly said, Oh yeah, this is strange weather for here. So, I called the National Weather Service and asked, Ain’t it awfully rainy and cold? Not really, the local meteorologist replied, it was only the 55th coldest stretch on record.
Such is the nature of human perception: We forget what happened or remember things that didn’t.
I dropped into the Lake George Park Commission’s Zoom meeting to check on the status of pending rules to curb runoff into the lake. Known as stormwater regulations, these rules are designed to try to reduce the amount of water that runs across roofs, roads and lots when it rains or snows. Unchecked, this water picks up pollution and sends it straight into the lake.
I’ll keep investigating waters of the Adirondacks. Stories about what’s still wild, about what has been changed, and about what is at risk of ruin.
Water? That seems niche, one might say. But water is everywhere — and where it isn’t is also a story.
All of our greatest stories involve water. The baffling story about the punishment of Moses for bringing it out of a rock. The story about the reflective trap of Narcissus. Native American stories that focus on the turtle, straddler of water and land.
One can never step in the same river twice. (Attributed to Heraclitus.)
Ripple in still water…when there is no pebble tossed nor wind to blow. (Grateful Dead)
What goes up must come down. (Everyone.)
As the year’s closing, I’ve been thinking about the lessons taught by the concept of retention time. That’s the average time water stays in a lake or pond. Think of it as the effect before has on after.
While Lake George remains a relatively pristine lake, especially for its size, it has slowly deteriorated over time thanks to shoreline development and runoff from nearby roads. It’s still got a hot home market around it and is a draw for bustling tourists from downstate and out of state.
After a $3 billion state bond to fund climate change projects fell apart because of the pandemic economy, a lot of environmental policy attention up here turned to a bill that would study the damage caused in the Adirondacks by road salt.
We’ve reported this year on that damage. Salt threatens human health and property values.
The road salt bill was introduced last winter in Saranac Lake.
Its Senate sponsor, Sen. Betty Little, a North Country Republican, made sure it moved by working with Sen. Tim Kennedy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee. He put his name atop the bill in Little’s place and gave the bill a better chance of passing. It cleared the Senate and state Assembly this summer.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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