WARRENSBURG - Five state grants totalling $473,040 earmarked for water quality improvement projects in Warren County have been approved, and county officials greeted the news with enthusiasm.
The grant awards include funds for two waterway improvement projects in the Lake George basin and one to boost the fish population in the Schroon River in Warrensburg, Dave Wick of Warren County Soil & Water Conservation District said. Wick's agency developed the grants and applied for the funds on behalf of local municipalities.
Bankrolled by the state Environmental Protection Fund, the five grants were the most any entity in the entire state received through this round of funding allocated through the state Water Conservation program, Wick said.
"We are pretty thrilled," Wick said, noting in the last round of funding through the program, Warren County received three awards totaling $350,000 - and those funded projects are now underway. "Our office thanks DEC for their confidence in our program and the many partners we work with to get conservation projects in the ground."
One of the grants, for $54,500, is to improve fish habitat in a two- to three-mile stretch of the Schroon River north of the County Home Bridge by placing boulders, installing woody structures and placing roots and brush into the waterway to make it conducive to nurturing fish.
Constructing such underwater habitat in a barren, sandy stretch of the river connects two outstanding stretches of habitat and will likely boost fish populations as much as sevenfold for a considerable distance, Wick said. He noted the plan has the support of the independent group Trout Unlimited.Wick noted that as a result of several flooding events, including the County Route 11 washout of 2005, the Schroon River received thousands of tons of sand that obliterated a substantial portion of fish habitat which this project seeks to re-create.
Another grant award of $186,850 was granted to fund a project to curb stormwater runoff flowing down English Brook into Lake George and reduce sedimentation. Sediment flowing in this stormwater during recent years has been deposited in a massive delta - measuring about 70,000 cubic yards - that now extends far into the lake and degrades recreation, navigation and the fishery, officials say.
The project includes work to build sediment retention devices to prevent more sand and other solids from running from Hubbell Reservoir down English Brook. The money also is to fund research to identify prime areas to remove unwanted sediment, Wick said, noting hundreds of tons of sand and pollutants are now running down the waterway into the lake.
The third award of $149,200 is to replace aging stream culverts in the Lake George watershed, to allow fish to regain their native pathways to spawning grounds which have in recent decades been blocked by the culverts' configuration.
The culverts, due to be replaced anyway due to their condition, have waterfalls at their outlets that brook trout can't traverse.
Most of this grant underwrites cooperative work with local town highway departments to replace existing, failing stream culverts with larger ones embedded into the waterways, allowing fish to easily pass through to upstream spawning grounds, Wick said.
The towns will get these new culverts at no charge - infrastructure they'd otherwise have to pay for, Wick said.
"We'll now be able to upgrade these culverts with new ones at no charge to the towns, while restoring fish habitat existing many years ago," he said.
A fourth grant of $78,000 is to curb stormwater runoff in Glens Falls, and the fifth is for $4,500 to fund educational outreach programs to boost public awareness for water quality issues.
Wick credited Bill Lupo of the state Department of Environmental Conservation for advocating for the grants, noting Lupo has "a strong commitment to protecting water quality." He added the projects would likely be underway in 2012.
Wick said he was taken aback with the news that Warren County received all five grants they asked for, while other entities across the state received merely a fraction of their requests or none at all.
"I was shocked we got them all, because there was a lot of competition for this money," he said.
Walt Lender of the Lake George Association praised the work of Wick's agency as well as other partner groups in an e-mail containing seven exclamation points.
"Five for five!! - and at that level of funding in these tight times!! Absolutely AMAZING! Congratulations!!" it read.
Warren County Administrator Paul Dusek also responded with praise and thanks.
"Nice work and congratulations to Dave and Warren County Soil & Water District representatives and staff. I join in thanking DEC representatives for their support and confidence," he said.