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.

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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Where’s the road salt report?


Keeping roads cleared and water clean is no easy feat in the Adirondacks. What will a new report say about how to solve the issue? Almanack file photo

The Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force held its first meeting a year ago this month — about two years after state lawmakers first adopted legislation mandating its creation.

We are still waiting on the panel’s first report outlining the salt pollution problem in the Adirondack Park and proposing solutions to minimize it. But the tea leaves are finally suggesting a report could be coming soon.

» Continue Reading.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Mapping unmapped dams

A small dam in Reber removed last year fragmented stream habitat even though it wasn't registered on the state's dam inventory, many hundreds like it may exist across the state. Photo by Zachary Matson.

Soon, I’ll be sharing a big story I’ve been working on, about the safety of the Adirondack Park’s most hazardous dams. The story focuses on hard-to-miss dams that have been closely monitored by state inspectors for decades. The dams likely pose the greatest public safety risk of any of the 500 Adirondack dams listed on the state’s dam inventory.

But many dams – or at least what remains of them – do not show up on any dam inventory, even as they fragment river ecosystems and threaten the migratory ability of numerous species.

These unmapped dams, known as “ghost dams,” certainly exist in the Adirondacks. A recent project led by The Nature Conservancy removed a small dam in Reber this summer to help extend important habitat for trout and salmon. The dam was not on the state’s inventory. Conservationists say there may be hundreds of such undocumented dams throughout the region.

» Continue Reading.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Lake? Pond? What’s the difference?

Hour Pond in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness this summer.

My wife and I hiked to Hour Pond in Siamese Ponds Wilderness this summer. We walked along the western shore of Thirteenth Lake before ascending a short distance to the secluded Hour Pond. As far as we could tell, we had the beautiful still waters to ourselves that day.

But is Hour Pond even a pond? Is it a lake? Is there a difference?

Hour Pond is no pond, according to a study published last year.

» Continue Reading.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A new water cycle

water cycle diagram

When the U.S. Geological Survey in October released the first update to its water cycle diagram in 20 years, it included a new force influencing how water moves through the world: humans.

Since the diagram was last updated in 2000, it has been used to teach hundreds of thousands of students across the country how water cycles through its different phases across different environments. But it failed to include the many ways to human activity affects water processes.

After consulting with educators and hydrology experts, USGS remedied the glaring oversight and released a far more detailed diagram.

“So much about the water cycle is influenced by our actions, and it’s important that we clearly see the role that each of us can play in sustainable water use amid a changing climate,” a top U.S. Department of Interior official said when the new schematic was published.

The visual now includes industrial, domestic agricultural and urban water use and runoff. The graphic depicts a dam holding back a large reservoir that collects snowmelt from mountains above. It shows farms and industrial centers pulling water from the ground and releasing spent water into rivers.

“We alter the water cycle,” the new diagram states plainly. “We redirect rivers. We build dams. We drain water from wetlands for development, We use water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs and groundwater aquifers… to supply our homes and communities.”

Read more about the update in this article from Eos.

In a release announcing the new diagram, USGS highlighted “the water cycle as a complex interplay of small, interconnected cycles that people interact with and influence, rather than one big circle.”

Check out the interactive diagram online. It’s a vertiable “I Spy” for hydro-nerds.

Image on top: The new USGS Water Cycle Diagram updated in October.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2023

An earmark for the Ausable River

East Branch of the Ausable River.

The massive federal spending law passed by Congress last month contained a handful of earmarks directing money to North Country projects, including Ausable River restoration efforts.

The Ausable River Association garnered $2 million to continue restoration projects in Jay and to carry out a comprehensive study of the East Branch in Keene, a project the town has twice failed to get funded in state programs. The funding ball got rolling after Jay Supervisor Matt Stanley sought solutions in the wake of ice jam flooding in Ausable Forks last year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Money for infrastructure

Improving water infrastructure across the Adirondacks is key to protecting water health. Explorer file photo

Gov. Kathy Hochul in her State of the State policies promised $500 million in clean water infrastructure funding.

A book offering more details about the proposal, which will be fleshed out even more when Hochul presents her budget in the coming weeks, said she planned to establish “community assistance teams” to work with small municipalities on advancing projects.

Those teams “will provide proactive outreach to small, rural, and disadvantaged communities, and assist with accessing financial assistance to address their clean water infrastructure needs.” That assistance could be critical to many North Country communities, which often struggle to garner funding through key state water programs.

» Continue Reading.

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