By TONY HALL
One of the nation’s foremost advocates for clean water will bring a message of urgency and hope to Bolton Landing this summer when she keynotes the Fund for Lake George’s annual meeting.
The urgency comes from global challenges to freshwater resources. The hope comes from local collaborations such as what Sandra Postel expects to observe during her visit, when she will speak at the Sagamore Resort on July 6.
Postel—author, most recently, of “Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity”—has never underestimated the challenges of restoring water quality.
“The problems are big, and we’re not moving quickly enough to solve them,” Postel said in a recent interview.
Among those problems: agricultural waste; nitrogen from wastewater treatment plants and septic systems coursing through the water cycle; urban runoff; and depleted groundwater reserves.
But, Postel added, “I wrote ‘Replenish’ from the perspective of realistic optimism. However large the problems, when you look out into the world, you can see examples of people and communities working together to solve these problems. Our challenge is to ‘scale up’ these local solutions.”
Postel said the message she will bring to Lake George is a hopeful one, and that she expects to find evidence in the watershed that, as she puts it in “Replenish,” “we can choose to write a new water story.”
According to Postel, it is possible to restore ecosystems by detoxifying the water that runs through them, especially when governments, conservation groups and engineers work together.
“The most promising solutions involve collaboration. That’s what creates innovation and new opportunities to fix the broken water cycle,” she said.
Postel is especially intrigued by one such collaboration unfolding on Lake George: the Jefferson Project—a joint undertaking of IBM, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Fund for Lake George to better understand the effects of human activities on the lake.
“Partnerships like the Jefferson Project are extremely important to protecting water quality for the long term,” Postel said. “Looking ahead, we’re going to have to apply the very best of our ingenuity, our technological capabilities and our scientific understanding to solve our water problems.”
Scientists and engineers working on the Jefferson Project are scheduled to present the results of their most recent research at the July meeting, including data collected after spending several months studying harmful algal blooms on Skaneateles Lake.
“Our work on Skaneateles Lake made it abundantly clear that our work on Lake George will help groups on water bodies throughout the state seeking to prevent or react to harmful algal blooms,” said Michael Kelly, an IBM research engineer. “We’re taking technology developed for Lake George and deploying it on other lakes. We’re excited about studying those systems, just as we were when we arrived on Lake George five years ago.”
John Kelly, the director of IBM Research, noted at the Fund for Lake George’s annual meeting in 2018 that the Jefferson Project’s mission was to both maintain a facility in Bolton Landing to study and protect Lake George “into perpetuity,” while, at the same time, “globalizing” the technology developed there.
Exporting the technology to Skaneateles Lake is a step in the direction of globalization, said Kelly.
It also illustrates how approaches to localized problems can be scaled upward to address common problems, as Postel insists they must if water quality is to be preserved.
“Joined by their many public and private partners, the Fund’s science-guided approach demonstrates what the future of freshwater protection looks like,” Postel said. “I’m really excited to share my perspective and to meet many of the people contributing to the success of that work.
In addition to “Replenish,” Postel is the author of three other books, including “Last Oasis,” which served as the basis for a PBS documentary.
She has taught water policy courses at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and at Mount Holyoke College, where she directed the Center for the Environment.
The Fund for Lake George’s Annual Meeting is open to the public. Registration will begin at 8:30 am. Reservations, which are required, may be made by calling 518-668-9700.