By RY RIVARD
Pollution and climate change threaten Lake George’s clear and drinkable water, according to new research that looks at nearly 40 years of measurements.
The lake remains relatively clean and clear, but shows troubling signs of human wear and tear, from both local pollution and global climate change.
Locally, unchecked road salt running into the lake could raise sodium levels in the 550 billion gallon lake above safe drinking water guidelines, researchers found. That could affect the thousands of people who get their tap water from the lake, though officials are working to reduce the amount of salt going into the lake.
And, while there’s never been a confirmed harmful algal bloom in Lake George, there’s evidence that algae levels are on the rise. That’s because algae and cyanobacteria — a toxic species often called algae — can bask in warming waters and feed off pollution from leaking lakeside septic systems or fertilizers that run off lawns into lakes.
Overall, the new findings from researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute and a few other local institutions largely match other research and popular understanding of Lake George.
The researchers concluded that the lake was deteriorating slowly, but “even small deteriorations in water quality might indicate larger threats on the horizon.” The paper was published on Halloween in Limnology and Oceanography, a scientific journal about lakes and oceans.
Some previous research, rounded up five years ago in a “state of the lake” report, suggested the lake was losing clarity. Researchers measure clarity using a simple method — they lower a plate into the water until it’s no longer visible. One of America’s other well-studied and well-known blue lakes, Lake Tahoe, along the California-Nevada border, has lost clarity, setting off a movement to “keep Tahoe blue.”
The new paper found Lake George’s blue hadn’t changed much at all.
“It’s pretty much static,” said Lawrence Eichler, a Rensselaer researcher who has studied the lake for decades. He worked on both the older report and the new paper. He said the different results came down to how researchers analyzed their data.
Still, researchers keep finding an increase in the amount of chlorophyll in the lake, a sign of either algae or cyanobacteria. Blooms of either can cover parts of lakes, destroying clarity, and bacteria blooms can even become toxic, sickening people and killing pets.
Not only is there pollution running into the lake, but the lake is warming up, which increases the time algae have to grow.
Dirtier looking water can drive down home values around a lake, so officials around Lake George fear lakeside property owners and businesses could be hit hard by a dirtier-looking lake.
The watershed around Lake George is relatively well protected. For years, it has been illegal to dump or discharge directly into the lake. But the lake is threatened by indirect flows — leaking septics and urban runoff.
The urban runoff, known as storm water, happens when rain or melting snow sweeps up pollution, like fertilizers, and spills uncontrolled into the lake. The Lake George Park Commission has been working to update regulations to prevent runoff, but the revisions have been pending in Albany for over a year.