Almanack Contributor Zachary Matson

Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The tension surrounding wilderness dams

duck hole

Very few structures conform to the rigorous restrictions imposed on Adirondack wilderness areas – unless you are talking about dams.

Largely a remnant of the region’s logging industry, structures that impound the headwaters of scenic and wild rivers dot the park’s most remote corners. While no new dams can be built in wilderness areas, existing ones can be maintained, one of the few structures considered conforming.

Despite management plans that suggest the state should maintain its most remote dams, some have fallen deep into disrepair, while others have succumbed to storms in recent years (see Duck Hole and Marcy dams).

» Continue Reading.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Who will pay for dam repairs?

The “Rainy-Dam Dam Failure” inundation map for Loon Lake Dam, showing the expected flood zone created if the dam failed during a massive storm.

We continued to run stories from our dam series this weekend. Join us as we shine a light on municipal dam owners. And dig into ways to improve dam safety drawn from the experiences of other states.

A handful of the Adirondack Park’s riskiest dams are owned by towns. Some of those towns have been slow to meet state requirements and  to pull together the financing needed to make (often costly) upgrades.

Town leaders say they need more financial support from the state to get the job done. The state says its the responsibility of all dam owners, including municipalities, to keep up with repair needs.

The other story outlines strategies that could be employed to improve a state dam safety program. Those strategies include raising funds through dam owner fees and strengthening risk analysis approaches.

» Continue Reading.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Investigating dams of the Adirondacks

conklingville dam

Over 500 dams dot the Adirondack Park, shaping the physical and social landscape of the region more than any other infrastructure.

The dams are integral to Adirondack history and the way today’s residents and visitors experience the park. They also quietly threaten public safety.

For the past year, I compiled documents, visited dams, interviewed owners and examined the state of those hundreds of dams. This weekend we started rolling out a series of stories that explores the safety and ownership of the riskiest structures, the unique position of backcountry dams and lessons from other states about how to improve dam safety.

» Continue Reading.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

It’s Water Week!

milfoil in a hand, on a boat dock

Eurasian watermilfoil, the pervasive invasive aquatic weed at the center of a debate over using herbicide in Adirondack waters. Photo by Gwendolyn Craig

For four decades, New York has celebrated its abundant water resources for a week in May. This is that week!

State officials Monday announced a five-year contract with the Adirondack Watershed Institute worth $13.2 million to continue the annual boat steward program that aims to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

This is also a big week in the fight over using a chemical herbicide to combat invasive plants in Adirondack lakes. The Adirondack Park Agency on Thursday is set to consider a permit that would allow the Town of Lake Luzerne to use the herbicide ProcellaCOR on 30+ acres of the town’s namesake lake in the southeastern corner of the park.

» Continue Reading.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Clean Water Due Date

man in day-glow shirt near metal footbridge

Municipalities across the state have an important June 14 deadline if they want a cut of billions in clean water infrastructure funding next year.

State agencies anticipate funding $1.97 billion in clean water projects and another $552 million in drinking water projects, according to a recent bulletin. Supported in part by the 2021 federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the funds are a mix of grants, interest-free loans and low-interest financing and are crucial to upgrading the costly systems that deliver drinking water, process our waste and protect our water. 

The June 14 deadline, along with an Aug. 25 deadline for lead line replacement money, requires local governments to submit engineering documents to get on a statewide list of proposed projects. Getting a project listed – whether millions to overhaul a wastewater treatment plant or thousands to replace water mains – is essential to getting the state funds.

» Continue Reading.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Towns report success with road salt reduction strategies

Man in orange pointing at orange tank

Where’s the report from the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force? Well, a Department of Transportation spokesperson last week said the agency expected “to complete and release it soon”—that’s the same response I got two months ago.

Meanwhile, a growing number of towns and counties across the park are already working to implement many of the best practices likely to be recommended in the report. Highway managers that once snuck out at night to add more salt to icy spots on their roads are now leading evangelists in the fight against salt pollution.

I went to Keeseville last week to listen in on a discussion of road managers from 10 local departments hosted by AdkAction. They geeked out about plow blades, brine mixing and more as the small nonprofit seeks to develop a networked approach to spreading salt reduction. 

» Continue Reading.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Lake George herbicide plan on hold (again)

milfoil in a hand, on a boat dock

The Lake George Park Commission earlier this month suspended a pair of herbicide permit applications pending with state officials.

Dave Wick, executive director of the lake state agency charged with management of Lake George, said after state lawyers appealed a Warren County judge’s decision blocking a permit that would have allowed the herbicide to be used last year, he asked that applications seeking permission to use the herbicide this year be put on hold.

» Continue Reading.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Lake communities consider controversial herbicide

lake luzerne

Lake communities around the park have been battling Eurasian milfoil infestations for decades and some are now eyeing the same herbicide that stirred controversy in Lake George.

State lawyers last week initiated an appeal of a Warren County judge’s decision to vacate a Lake George permit, calling the Adirondack Park Agency staff’s presentation of the pros and cons of the herbicide “one-sided.”

While the Lake George Association and some residents have raised concerns that there are still unanswered questions about how the herbicide ProcellaCOR EC would work in the lake, others around the park see it as a potentially efficient tool.

» Continue Reading.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

The Global Picture

The view across Lake Champlain from the old Hotel Champlain at Bluff Point on the Clinton Community College campus. Photo by Zachary Matson

I spend most of my time focused on the details of Adirondack water issues – a region abundant with high-quality water and highly protected resources. It still faces huge challenges and is important for its own sake and in a global context.

When it comes to that global context, though, there is a much bigger picture. Much bigger.

The United Nations last month held its first water-focused conference since 1977 and issued 2023 United National World Water Development Report, which highlighted how far behind the world is in reaching benchmarks on the way to a goal of ensuring the human right to clean water and sanitation.

» Continue Reading.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Forever chemicals and our water supplies

adirondack regional airport sign

I wrote about recent regulatory actions on so-called “forever chemicals” at the state and federal level. First, I needed to learn about the complex category of synthetic chemicals. Check out my explainer.

PFAS, which are carbon-fluorine compounds used in countless consumer goods, do not break down easily in the environment and can contribute to human health risks, including cancer and other issues. The Environmental Protection Agency has started the process to require public water providers across the country test for the most common types of PFAS (known as PFOS and PFOA) and remove them from their supply if detected.

» Continue Reading.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Good news for Lake Champlain’s trout


News of a reduction to planned lake trout stocking levels in Lake Champlain is another positive sign of the growing strength of the lake’s wild-reproducing populations.

Fisheries managers announced plans to halve the number of lake trout stocked into the lake this fall, cutting the number to 41,000.

University of Vermont fisheries biologist Ellen Marsden and researchers in her lab in recent years have documented evidence that about 10 years ago, lake trout first introduced decades earlier finally started to spawn fish that “recruited” out of the first year of life and into the juvenile stage. Those fish have now grown into reproductive maturity and are continuing to thrive.

“This isn’t just a flash in the pan,” Marsden said.

» Continue Reading.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Testing for ‘forever chemicals’

Ice at the old Corinth drinking supply reservoir earlier this winter. Photo by Zachary MatsonThe federal Environmental Protection Agency this morning proposed the first national drinking water standards for the so-called “forever chemicals” that are pervasive in waterways across the country.

The proposed regulation – which is open for public comment and EPA suggested would be finalized by the end of the year – would establish legally-enforceable “maximum contaminant levels” for six types of PFAS.

The rule would require public water systems to monitor the contaminants, report levels to the public and achieve new thresholds for the different chemical types. The proposed rule establishes maximum contaminant levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) of 4 parts per trillion in public drinking supplies. It creates a hazard index for four other chemical types, limiting their levels to less than 1 part per trillion.

The ubiquitous chemicals are found in countless items of everyday life, such as waterproof clothing and toilet paper. Hundreds of millions of Americans are estimated to be exposed to some levels of PFAS in their tap water.

Check out coverage of the proposed rule in the New York Timesthe Washington Post and the Associated Press.

Water conference

In New York City, the United Nations is hosting a global water conference. Known officially as the 2023 Conference for the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation, the conference aims to refocus efforts to address the numerous challenges to freshwater first outlined at a 1977 UN conference. Participants will serve as a review of goals established to avert international water shortfalls.

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

Photo at top: Ice at the old Corinth drinking supply reservoir earlier this winter. Photo by Zachary Matson

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Deciphering a court decision

Sunset on Lower Saranac Lake

decision from the Appellate Division last week effectively rejected the Adirondack Park Agency’s long-standing interpretation of its wetlands regulations. I imagine we will be tracking the fallout from the decision for months to come.

That part of the ruling was a clear win for Thomas Jorling, a former DEC commissioner challenging a marina near his Lower Saranac Lake property. But another part of the decision concerning the state’s responsibility to study the carrying capacity of the lake was more of a mixed bag.

On the one hand, the decision sent a clear message to the state that it does in fact have a responsibility to study the lake’s ability to sustain various uses, including motorized boats, calling the state’s failure to do so “wholly unexplained and, indeed, inexplicable.”

» Continue Reading.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The future of Adirondack lake monitoring

Sagamore Lake is one of 58 lakes that regularly monitored as part of a state-funded program that is now managed by the Adirondack Watershed Institute. Explorer file photo

The Adirondack Watershed Institute is now managing one of the Adirondack Park’s most important long-term water quality monitoring projects.

The project, known plainly as Adirondack Long Term Monitoring, collects important chemical data from 58 Adirondack water bodies, including many remote ones, and has helped document a gradual recovery from acidification across the region.

For decades the data collection was carried out by the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, a nonprofit established by the state in 1983 and absorbed by the Ausable River Association in January, but AWI this winter won the latest contract with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

» Continue Reading.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Invasives update: The good, the bad and the promising

Despite an omnipresent threat of invasive species entering or spreading in the Adirondack Park, around three-quarters of Adirondack waterways remain free of aquatic invasive species.

Conservationists battling the spread of invasive species in the park like to cite that fact as a sign of the park’s still-pristine nature and as a clarion call to continue their work.

The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, a small team that coordinates efforts to fight invasives in the park, this week released its annual report. The report highlights the growing threat of forest pests like hemlock wooly adelgid on Lake George and the looming threat of round goby and hydrilla, which have yet to break through the park’s borders.

APIPP reported five new waterbodies found to contain invasive species within its area: Lake Roxanne and Tracy Brook in Clinton County, the St. Regis River and a connected wetland in Franklin County, and Park Lake in Hamilton County.

» Continue Reading.

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