Researchers hope to link monitoring program to other scientific projects
By Zachary Matson
The Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College this month took charge of the region’s longest-standing water quality monitoring program with a five-year contract with the state.
The program, known as Adirondack Long Term Monitoring or ALTM, collects key data on 58 Adirondack lakes, contributing to a decades-old dataset focused on acidification across the region’s waterways.
For decades the data collection was carried out by the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, a nonprofit established by the state in 1983 and absorbed by the Ausable River Association in January, but AWI this winter won the latest contract with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
AWI added the lake monitoring work to its portfolio of parkwide water research, including water quality monitoring at scores of other lakes and management of a sprawling monitoring program that relies on citizen science, the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program.
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“It’s a really nice complement to the other work we are doing in the Adirondacks,” said Brendan Wiltse, a senior research scientist at AWI overseeing the new lake monitoring.
By the end of the year, AWI plans to convene a scientific advisory committee made up of representatives from state agencies and universities involved in Adirondack water research. The committee will explore new measures to collect at the lake sites and coordinate other research projects to align with the long-term monitoring work.
“Our hope is that we can see improved coordination around this,” Wiltse said.
The monitoring program samples sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, pH levels and other key metrics used to document acidification and a gradual recovery from its effects on dozens of lakes, including some remote backcountry waterbodies.
NYSERDA supports the continued monitoring work along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal EPA and United States Geological Survey. Regular surveys of some of the 58 lakes commenced in the early 1980s as concerns mounted about the effects of acid rain pollution originating from power plants on Adirondack lakes. While specific monitoring schedules have shifted over the decades, moving from monthly to “seasonal” sampling every two months, the data is critical to scientists, policymakers and Adirondack Park advocates.
“Monitoring data and research are necessary to formulate effective and equitable public policies,” according to NYSERDA’s request for proposals.
AWI researchers started collecting samples from the lake sites this month and plan to incorporate future sampling into the work shared among staff members. The contract with AWI is for $495,000 over five years, Wiltse said, and will primarily cover personnel costs. AWI did not win the contract to conduct a separate portion of the monitoring program that focuses on sampling Adirondack streams.
Jeremy Magliaro, manager of NYSERDA’s Environmental Research Program, in an AWI press release highlighted the agency’s commitment to the basic scientific work.
“This monitoring program will enable our state and federal policy makers to better understand the effects of air pollution on the state’s sensitive Adirondack waters while documenting trends in ecosystem recovery from acid rain pollution,” Magliaro said.
The new monitoring contract comes as a coalition of researchers and advocates plot a wide reaching survey of climate change and Adirondack lakes. The planned study of lakes is known as the Survey of Climate and Adirondack Lake Ecosystems or SCALE.
While the long-term monitoring program collects data at regular intervals (i.e. every other month) for an extended timeframe, the survey would provide a baseline of conditions on hundreds of Adirondack lakes and shift the focus of researchers to climate change-related issues.
The ALTM lakes may be included in that broader survey, and the long-term monitoring program could serve as a platform to continue monitoring key trends identified in the survey. As research efforts largely shift to more of a climate focus, scientists and policymakers are also interested in studying how climate change complicates recovery from acidification.