It is budget season in Albany, as my colleague Gwendolyn Craig has been reporting, and that means debates about money for programs in the Adirondacks.
She’ll be covering that, so follow her and sign up for her newsletter if you haven’t already.
But there is one item in the Adirondack Council’s ask from the state that caught my eye, because I wrote about it last year: money for a massive new study of Adirondack lakes and how they’re doing.
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You’d think we know a lot about the lakes around here. Some of them and the streams that flow in and out of them are famous. Yet, even some of the more well-studied lakes produce the occasional mystery, like last fall’s algal blooms on Lake George and Mirror Lake, and some of the lakes aren’t studied at all.
That wasn’t always the case. Between 1984 and 1987 the state-backed Adirondack Lake Survey Corp. visited 1,469 lakes and ponds looking for patterns in the geology, chemistry and life of each lake.
The results showed devastating effects of acid rain. The clear documentation of that damage helped inform Congress’ 1990 update of the federal Clean Air Act.
Now, the threats may be different — climate change, micro plastic that literally rains down from the sky, road salt — but the monitoring may be insufficient to make a clear case about what is happening out there.
A few years ago, Taylor Leach, then a postdoctoral researcher at Rensselaer, tried to cobble together a complete picture of lake chemistry and lake life using data from different researchers.
She told me she found “a mess.”
Eventually, she was able to assemble a larger picture of “long-term” conditions in 28 lakes.
The reliable information she published also covers just two decades, some of it ending when one program stopped collecting data on aquatic life.
Now, the things being done with climate research are rather astounding. Last week, for instance, a study of a glacier in Peru pinned blame for the fast melting on greenhouse gas emissions in such a way that attorneys believe they can use the study in court to seek restitution from a single utility company for using fossil fuel-fired power. We’ll see if that works.
But if there is an analogy for that in the Adirondacks — if warmer lakes are becoming filled with algae and anyone ever wanted to hold someone accountable for the damage — we may never know that without more conclusive research.