TICONDEROGA - A new scientific study of streams in the western region of the Adirondack Mountains has found that two-thirds of them are harmed by acid rain produced by the burning of fossil fuels, New York state and federal officials announced today. This equates to 450 miles of acidified streams.
This study, published in the October-November issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, is the first-ever regional assessment of streams to include episodic acidification - short-term pulses of acidity that occur during high stream flows. It was conducted jointly by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, and the University of Texas at Arlington. Primary funding was provided by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Supporting data was provided by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute through its Adirondack Effects Assessment Program. Copies of the final report of this study are available at: http://www.nyserda.org/Programs/Environment/EMEP/finalreports.asp
"This cooperative survey is another milestone in the state's long commitment to scientific measurements supporting sound public policy," DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said. "The study shows that, just like lakes, Adirondack streams are suffering from acid rain. In fact, streams might be under even more pressure from acid rain because they don't have some of the natural buffering capabilities found in lakes."
"NYSERDA has been the financial foundation to acid precipitation studies on Adirondack streams and lakes for years and is committed to understanding how energy production and use impact these ecosystems," said Robert G. Callender, NYSERDA Vice President for Programs. "This latest round will add to a significant body of research for future consideration."
The western Adirondacks receive some of the highest levels of acidic deposition in the United States. In this study, 200 headwater streams were sampled in five surveys conducted from 2003 to 2005. This is the first regional assessment of Adirondack streams since the early 1980s, and the only assessment conducted in the United States to characterize episodic acidification on a regional level.
Streams are more prone to acidification than lakes because they receive a larger fraction of water from shallow rivulets that are often ineffective at neutralizing acidity. And unlike lakes, streams aren't able to alleviate short-term pulses of acidity with previously stored less-acidic water. Stream water also reflects the influences of terrestrial vegetation and soil processes more directly than lake water.
"This stream survey provides long-sought information on Adirondack streams that brings our knowledge of streams and forests on par with our understanding of lakes in the Adirondack region" said project investigator Karen Roy of DEC. "Our goal is to evaluate representative streams in the remainder of the Adirondack Park."
The study also showed the negative effects of these acid episodes on aquatic insects. This aspect is covered in the upcoming March 2009 issue of Environmental Indicators - which is available now online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/1470160X.
"Because streams reflect the chemistry of soils, these results indicate that soils in Adirondack forests are low in calcium, an important nutrient for healthy trees," said project leader Greg Lawrence of the USGS.
These findings confirm that healthy macroinvertebrate communities are not likely in headwater streams of the western Adirondack Mountains where acidic deposition has resulted in long-term chronic and/or episodic stream acidification. In general, species richness often decreases, with certain acid-sensitive species replaced by more tolerant species.