“Lake George is, without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw ... its water is as limpid as crystal.”
So wrote Thomas Jefferson to his daughter in 1791.
But in the modern age — with its isolation compromised by modern transportation, flourishing tourism and development along it shores — Lake George’s purity has come under assault.
In the 1980s, lake scientists at the Darrin Freshwater Institute in Bolton Landing issued warnings that human activities in and around the lake were threatening the quality of the water — which not only provides recreation for residents and visitors, sustenance for wildlife, but drinking water for thousands of local citizens.
The lakewater was being polluted by stormwater runoff and seepage from septic systems in the basin, and it was threatened by non-native plants and creatures that were beginning to take hold.
In response, regulations over septic systems were toughened, and recently, a law banning the use of phosphorus fertilizers was enacted. Action was taken to control the spread of Eurasian Milfoil, a fast-spreading foreign lakeweed that threatened recreation in shallow bays of the lake.
Then in 2010, a researcher for the Fresh Water Institute discovered Asian clams in the lake, prompting new concern over the spread of invasive species, which experts say threaten the health of the local tourism-based economy, the purity of local drinking water, and the future of the lake itself.
Asian clams, proliferating in western U.S. waterways including Lake Tahoe, multiply at an exponential rate and cause huge algae blooms, threaten traditional recreational activities like swimming and fishing, as well as usurping the food supplies that existing aquatic wildlife depend on.
In response to the threat, environmentalists formed an Asian clam task force, and about 900 benthic-barrier mats were set out in several shallow areas of Lake George to smother the invasives, with the belief the species could be eradicated. The Lake George Association and the Fund for Lake George were leaders in tackling this new threat.
Subsequently, new Asian clam beds were located, and the eradication effort was expanded.
In late September, the Warren County Board of Supervisors pledged $270,000 toward the effort to control Asian clams in Lake George, boosting their accrued contribution to a sum of $500,000.
In the meantime, the Park Commission had been researching a mandatory inspection and boat-washing program that is expected to curb new introduction of clams and other invasive species into Lake George. They sought to have all boats to be pressure washed if they weren’t certified as clean, drained and dry.
Their initiative was prompted in part by actions taken to control invasive species in Lake Tahoe, as well as a voluntary local Lake Stewards inspection program conducted since 2008 on Lake George by the Lake George Association.
These Lake Stewards, in inspecting more than 24,000 boats, discovered the presence of invasive species present in or on nearly 400 watercraft.
In May, leaders of lakeside municipalities joined with environmental groups pledging to impose a mandatory boat inspection and decontamination program if the state didn’t take action on its own through the Park Commission. Their pledge was based on a report which concluded that comprehensive action was needed as soon as possible to curb Asian clams and a half-dozen other invasive species.
Although the science shows that early action is vital to success, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has avoided endorsing a mandatory boat inspection program.
But Friday, Nov. 30, Warren County supervisors serving on two of the panel’s committees voted unanimously in conceptual support of a mandatory boat inspection and decontamination program.
If passed on Dec. 21 by the full board, county Attorney would draft a law requiring all boats launched in all the county’s lakes and public ponds to undergo inspection and certification — and when traces of invasives are discovered, the vessels would have to undergo decontamination at a washing station.
We applaud their bold action. At the very least, the resolution may prompt the state to start taking the issue of invasive species seriously.
We also urge the political leaders of all Adirondack counties to enact parallel resolutions so Warren County’s message carries more weight with the state’s legislators and top executives.
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