By Gwendolyn Craig
The Lake George Park Commission has organized its own committee to examine the water-quality impacts of septic systems around Lake George and whether or not regulations are needed.
The committee met for the first time on July 1. Commissioner Ken Parker is chairing the committee. Also on the committee are representatives from the state Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation, local businesses in the Lake George community, the Lake George waterkeeper, an expert on septic system testing, local planners and local politicians. The Chazen Companies, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, is also assisting the commission.
“We’ve always talked about it over the years, and we finally have found some time,” Parker said, about convening a committee. “Now we’re here. We jumped into it with all three feet and moving ahead.”
Besides finding some time, the Park Commission and local governments in the Lake George basin, have been under more pressure to address leaking septic systems that could be impacting water quality. Lake George had its first confirmed harmful algal blooms reported last year. The blooms need a supply of nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen to grow, and some are wondering if aging and failing septics could be feeding them. The Adirondack Council has also called for a widespread septic system inspection program.
A past study by the Lake George Association (now merged with The Fund for Lake George), showed caffeine levels in the water, which Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said is not coming from rain. A study by The Fund for Lake George, with support from the Town of Lake George, also showed that two-thirds of the septic systems around the lake are either antiquated, past their life expectancy or are not maintained.
“Science is out there,” Navitsky said.
David Wick, executive director of the Park Commission, said more work has to be done to get the support of all partners around the lake. Acting too quickly to adopt new regulations, he said, would be “a recipe for failure.” Wick said there has been no environmental impact statement that has culminated the science on septic systems for the lake.
“Once we have that information, then we’re going to be looking for a clear discussion, is this important enough to do for Lake George, yes or no,” Wick said.
Parker acknowledged that there are a number of people around the lake who need convincing that another regulation should be put in place. Parker and Wick also reminded the committee that any new regulation would need to pass muster in Albany before getting adopted.
Other municipalities in New York have septic system inspection programs, including several counties in the Finger Lakes. Cayuga County, for example, bases the frequency of septic system inspections on the proximity of the system to the lakeshore. Some municipalities around Lake George have felt the matter is important enough, too, including the towns of Queensbury and Bolton. They’ve adopted their own regulations.
Who is on the committee?
- Ken Parker Committee Chair, LGPC
- Dave Floyd, LGPC
- Bill Mason, LGPC
- Cathy LaBombard, LGPC
- Joe Stanek, LGPC
Advisors to the committee
- Tom Snow, PE NYSDEC – NYC Watershed Program
- Kevin Kenyon, PE NYSDOH
- Tom Jarrett, PE
- Susan Wilson, Deputy Supervisor, Town of Bolton
- Ethan Gaddy, AICP, Warren County Planning Department
- Walt Lender Executive Vice President, LGA
- Dan Barusch, Town/Village of Lake George
- Chris Navitsky, PE, The LG Waterkeeper
- Kathy Muncil, CEO, Fort William Henry Corp.
- Dave Wick, Executive Director, LGPC
- Jason Kokkinos, LGPC
- Justin Luyk, LGPC
Bolton Deputy Supervisor Susan Wilson reported on how the town-wide regulation requiring inspection upon property transfer was going since it passed in the fall of 2019. Wilson said there have been 168 inspections so far. Of those, three needed repairing and 11 needed replacing because they were not up to code
But not all municipal leaders are eager to pass a septic regulation.
Dan Barusch, director of planning and zoning for the town of Lake George, said though the town studied septic systems around the lake and staff recommended an inspection program, “ironically enough, we do not have the inspection program. I will tell you from our end, part of the reason why is political in nature,” Barusch said.
Barusch did not identify any political leaders against the proposed program, but in June, Lake George Supervisor Dennis Dickinson was against a proposal by Warren County Minority Leader Claudia Braymer to institute a countywide inspection program. Warren County has also convened a new committee to examine a proposed “septic inspection at transfer” program.
Besides political pressure, Barusch added, some smaller municipalities are concerned about staffing and funding an inspection program.
“There are other communities in Warren County, some specifically on the lake, that probably don’t have a professional planner, zoning administrator, maybe a code enforcement officer, with no knowledge of sanitary systems,” Barusch said.
Some local leaders are also worried about having a hodge podge of septic regulations around the lake.
“If the Park Commission moves forward with this, there will be consistency around the basin,” Navitsky said.
Barusch echoed that, adding that communities will need “as much help as possible.”
The Park Commission will hold its regular monthly meeting at 10 a.m. on July 27 at the Fort William Henry Conference Center in Lake George. The septic committee will meet again on Aug. 5 via teleconference. For more information go to lgpc.ny.gov.