Report cites 10 septic system priority areas along Lake George

A recently completed study by the Lake George Waterkeeper identifies 10 areas within 500 feet of the Adirondack lake as priorities for inspecting and repairing aging septic systems leaking nutrients including phosphorous and nitrogen into the water.

That has contributed to algal blooms in the lake. It also poses a risk for harmful blooms of blue-green algae that are actually cyanobacteria and can make swimmers sick. Those have not yet been found in Lake George, according to the study’s authors.

The priority areas are North Diamond Point, South Diamond Point, Smokey Bear Area, South Green Harbour, Stebbins Brook Area, Sunnyview Area, Westover Cover, Wiawaka Area, Sand Pebble Cover, and Plum Point.

The analysis by the Fund for Lake George and Waterkeeper Christ Navitsky was presented this week to the Town of Lake George, which commissioned it.

Meanwhile, fund Executive Director Eric Siy urged state legislators to approve funding for replacing the sewage system in Lake George Village.

The septic systems study found one-third were near or older than their life expectancy of 30 to 40 years and the ages of another one-third were unknown.

The data showed that the last pump-out date of more than half of the systems — on 224 of 399 properties — couldn’t be determined.

The study, partly state funded, was based on surveys sent to residents — with about 34 percent responding — and available municipal inventory and maintenance records.

The study recommends establishing an inspection program for properties without available information on their septic systems, maintaining a data base and requiring inspections when properties are transferred to a new owner.

In nearby Queensbury, a town law effective Jan. 1 requires sellers of properties zoned waterfront residential to pass a town inspection of their septic systems.

According to the FUND and Waterkeeper, the status of any particular septic system can’t be determined without an onsite inspection.

They surveyed systems within 500 feet of the lake or 100 feet of tributaries and noted that contamination can originate from farther away and enter the lake through nearby steams or cracks in subsurface rocks.

“The value of this study to the long-term health of the lake can be immeasurable and enduring,” Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson said. “It is an investment in our environment and our economy, which go hand-in-hand, and one of many investments on the part of both the public and private sectors that will ensure our Lake is protected for generations to come.”

Navitsky said the Town of Lake George has provided a model for other communities to follow in assessing and addressing the condition of their septic systems and their impacts on the lake.

In legislative testimony this week, Siy said the need is urgent for replacing the village’s wastewater treatment plant, calling it the top environmental and economic priority in protecting Lake George as a world-class tourism destination and drinking water supply.

“We are here today to underscore the fact that as goes the health of Lake George so too goes the health of our regional economy,” Siy said. The sewage treatment system, built in 1936, has been polluting the lake for over a half-century, with the problem worsening with its growing popularity, he said.

Fund officials noted that the village first requested state funding two years ago for the project, commissioned a design for a replacement, estimated to cost about $14.5 million, and faces “a dire fiscal emergency” without state help.

The village is under a consent decree with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to replace to plant and the state has awarded “generous grants” to upgrade wastewater treatment systems in the Hague, Bolton and both the town and village of Lake George, the fund’s business council wrote in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The fate of the Lake is at stake,” the wrote last month. “So is the fate of the taxpayers of Lake George Village.”

About Michael Virtanen

Michael Virtanen is a former Explorer staff reporter who also previously worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press and for daily newspapers in Albany, Utica and Amsterdam, N.Y.

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