By Tony Hall
The Fund for Lake George, a lake protection organization based in Lake George Village, “is truly a fund, both in name and in function,” according to Jeff Killeen, the chairman of its Board of Trustees.
At the group’s annual meeting, held at the Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing July 6, Killeen announced that it will raise ten million dollars to create a “Forever Fund,” an endowment that will protect Lake George into perpetuity.
According to Killeen, sixty five percent of the ten million dollar goal – or $6.5 million – has already been raised.
“We are on target to reach our ten million dollar goal by the end of 2020,” said Killeen.
Since 2013, Killeen said, The Fund’s donors have helped make it possible for the organization to spend $1 million every year to prevent the spread of invasive species and stop pollution from wastewater, road salt and urban runoff.
With its “Forever Fund,” the organization’s annual spending will double, Killeen said.
“With a ten million dollar endowment, we can take this work to the next level, financing our operations from what we earn from investments and putting every dollar donated directly into programs that protect Lake George,” said Killeen.
Killeen said, “to protect Lake George for the ages, you need science-based policy, using the best data available, and best-in-class partners. But you also need investment. An unfunded strategy may be interesting to study, but it’s not effective.”
In 2019, The Fund will contribute nearly $250,000 to state agencies and local governments for projects and programs to protect Lake George.
“These are strategic investments; we may call them grants, but they’re designed to leverage additional dollars,” said Eric Siy, The Fund’s executive director. “We’re not just handing out money. We expect returns on our investments in the form of measureable, watershed-wide environmental protection.”
For instance, The Fund donated $23,400 to New York State to help pay for a boat washing station at the new Adirondack Welcome Center on the Northway, helping to ensure that boats are free of invasive species before reaching Lake George and other Adirondack water-bodies.
“Lake George is surrounded by waterways possessing nearly 200 species,” said Siy. “A region-wide ring of protection cuts the risk of invasive species from ever reaching our shores.”
In 2020, through its partnerships as well as its own programs, The Fund will reach several of the goals it has set for itself in its mission to protect Lake George, said Siy.
“Our goal was to become a national model for reducing salt use by the end of 2020. We’re well ahead of that milestone, on track to reduce road salt by fifty percent within two years,” said Siy.
“We have also challenged ourselves and our partners to become the nation’s leader in the effective management of wastewater and storm water,” he said.
With the creation of a Council of Business Advisors, The Fund has enlisted the private sector to help reduce the use of salt, treat storm water and win state support for new and upgraded wastewater treatment plants in Lake George and Bolton.
According to Siy, at least half the 30,000 metric tons of salt that are deposited within the Lake George watershed every winter is applied to private property.
Starting this year, The Fund for Lake George will subsidize assessments of current practices at local resorts and help develop plans that will enable managers to keep their properties’ roads and parking lots clear of snow and ice without the excessive use of salt.
“With best-in-class partners, you accelerate the speed at which you can accomplish things,” said Killeen. “Example: The Jefferson project, a genuinely global, innovative approach to fresh water protection.”
This year, The Fund will also contribute $285,000 to the Jefferson Project, which The Fund, IBM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy created in 2013
Thanks to the Jefferson Project, Lake George is now the most extensively monitored water body in the world.
“Lake George is, by far, the smartest lake in the world,” John E. Kelly, III, the executive vice president of IBM, told the Fund’s annual meeting.
Data from 500 sensors within the lake, in tributaries and around the watershed, monitor minute by minute changes in urban runoff, chemistry and circulation.
Fed by data from the sensors, RPI’s scientific research and more than thirty years of water quality monitoring subsidized by The Fund for Lake George, a “scenario engine” created by IBM engineers and mathematicians will enable policy makers to look into the future and predict the consequences of loading the lake with more nutrients or pollutants, Kelly said.
“Using a hundred or more indicators of water quality, we can model what could happen to the lake in the coming years and in the coming decades, given various assumptions about human inputs,” said Kelly. “It’s the most sophisticated model for a freshwater body that I know of.”
“From a policy perspective, the value of being able to forecast changes is that it allows us to take effective preemptive actions to ensure lasting protection,” said Siy.
In a world of existential threats to fresh water and the ecosystems it supports, Lake George is a “hope spot,” author Sandra Postel told the audience.
Postel, the author of “Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity” and the event’s keynote speaker, said Lake George is perhaps the world’s most conspicuous example of groups working together to protect or restore a fresh water resource.
“The collaboration between IBM, a cutting edge technology company, Rennsalaer Polytechnic Institute, a first-in-class science and engineering university, and a committed community that loves its lake, is remarkable,” she said. “It can be a real beacon for those working on these same issues everywhere. We’re watching to see what happens here.”
The Jefferson Project is already benefiting other lakes, said John E. Kelly.
Last summer, researchers from IBM and RPI transferred some of the Project’s advanced technology to Skaneateles Lake near Syracuse–the first time Lake George’s custom-built sensors were placed in another water body to perform similar monitoring functions.
It has helped local officials not only understand the causes of Harmful Algal Blooms, but to anticipate them and deflect their worst consequences, Kelly said.
“The deployment of Jefferson Project technologies and bringing our collective experience to Skaneateles Lake supports our original intent to expand beyond Lake George to other locations with water quality concerns,” said Kelly.
Even as the Jefferson Project’s technology aids groups on Skaneateles Lake and other fresh water bodies, Lake George reaps benefits, said Eric Siy.
“The more we share our experience, our data, our technology, the more we help solve problems common to every lake, the more our influence grows, positioning us to shape policy on the state and federal levels and be of lasting benefit to everyone,” said Siy.
Tony Hall is editor of the Lake George Mirror.