U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck visited Paul Smith’s College Aug. 19 to announce a $300,000 grant for the Adirondack Watershed Institute’s Watershed Stewardship Program. Lower St. Regis Lake is in the background.
A local college is getting more than $300,000 in federal grant monies to combat and control the spread of invasive species.
The Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College accepted a grant totaling about $330,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during a press conference Aug. 19.
The funds will be used to implement a recreational boat inspection program aimed at preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels, spiny water flea, and Eurasian water milfoil.
EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck was on hand Aug. 19 to discuss the grant.
Standing on the shores of Lower St. Regis Lake in front of the college’s Paolozzi center, Enck said stopping the spread of invasive species in the Adirondacks is critical to the health of the Lake Ontario watersheds.
Enck says the Eastern Lake Ontario Watercraft Inspectors program is being spearheaded by college staff and the Watershed Institute.
“I don’t know if everyone realizes that the Adirondacks play a vital role in terms of feeding into Lake Ontario,” she said. “We want to make sure that aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels are not a threat to our waters.”
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was established by President Barack Obama when he entered office in 2008. Enck says he pulled together a task force of 16 federal agencies to establish an action plan focusing on five priority areas.
Those five focuses include: cleaning up toxic hot spots; combating invasive species; promoting near-shore health; restoring wetlands and other habitats; and public education.
Enck says Paul Smith’s College is a strategic partner in the EPA’s collective effort to improve the environment.
The college will use the grant funding to inspect some 14,000 recreational boats in the western Adirondacks.
Stewards from the Watershed Institute will man stations along the Oswegatchie, Black, and Raquette rivers, according to Enck.
“And I think what’s really important is the specific impact,” she said. “There will actually be hand-removal of zebra mussels from boats. And that’s so important, because these water bodies do feed into the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes have one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater — which I always find amazing.”
Dr. Eric Holmlund is director of the Watershed Stewardship Program. He says stewards have been working to educate the public about aquatic invasive species for 12 summers now.
Holmlund says recreational boaters are getting the message, but some resistance still occurs.
“Some people are less willing to want to stop and take these steps — they only take 5 or 10 minutes — but they want to be on their way and our stewards do have to be patient, but yet persistent, in raising awareness that this is something that somebody cares about and they should care about as well,” he said.
College President Dr. John Mills says the grant will help the Watershed Institute expand and spread its message.
Mills notes that preventive efforts like this save money in the long run.
“It’s cheaper to do prevention than it is to do remediation,” he said.
“Once we get out there and we educate the public, we’re actually going to be saving community dollars on having to attack this problem. Just look what was spent on Upper Saranac Lake when the milfoil invasion — it was over $1 million. Because it happened and it wasn’t prevented. So if you’re out there preventing, this kind of money has a return on its investment that the public as of yet probably doesn’t really understand — and we’ll be doing that.”
Sean Magers is spokesman for North Country Congressman Bill Owens, who supported the grant award for Paul Smith’s College.
Magers said that Owens is confident the money will be put to good use, adding that protecting watersheds helps the tourism economy in northern New York.