Adirondack Watershed Institute, partners explore support options as EPA cuts funding
By Zachary Matson
The federal Environmental Protection Agency starting this fall will no longer fund the Adirondack Park’s longest-running lake monitoring program, which for decades has tracked the region’s gradual recovery from acid rain in over 50 lakes.
EPA notified state officials late last year that effective Sept. 30 the agency will withdraw funding that supported the monitoring program’s lab analysis at the United States Geological Survey New York Water Science Center in Troy.
The federal government is also pulling back support for similar long term monitoring projects in other Northeastern states as lakes rebound from the specific effects of acid deposition, a problem that has lessened since regulatory controls were implemented at Midwest manufacturing plants.
Adirondack water researchers and advocates, though, have long relied on the monitoring program’s data to study acid rain and other emerging threats, such as climate change and oxygen loss.
The dataset has also been used to strengthen controls on polluting industries.
The funding cut has raised concern among researchers and advocates that an important surveillance project will be diminished if it cannot be maintained going forward. Scientists plotting a major survey of hundreds of Adirondack lakes rely on that data as do scientists studying issues unrelated to acid rain.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority administers the program, pitching in around $100,000 a year to fund field staff to collect samples, including at some remote sites. NYSERDA last February started a new five-year contract with the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College and in a recent statement committed to continuing its funding through December 2027.
State officials and AWI’s lead scientist on the project in recent weeks said they were looking into how to continue the monitoring project over coming years without the federal money.
“Everyone that is involved in the program is currently thinking about the options on the table,” said Brendan Wiltse, lead research scientist at AWI. “We have known about this for a very short time and we have basically this full year to figure out how to move the program forward.”
Wiltse said AWI was exploring whether it could do the lab analysis, find another lab and or come up with other funding sources. An advisory committee of representatives from major research institutions working on Adirondack water issues is also involved in the planning.
None of the government agencies clarified the size of the funding cut.
A USGS spokesperson said the cuts “represent a significant loss in funding for our water quality laboratory” in Troy but noted the lab gets money elsewhere.
An EPA spokesperson suggested that since acid rain work has been accomplished, it is not making the study a priority. In a statement the representative cited major reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, the key sources of acid deposition in the Adirondacks, and noted the agency has “no expectation of deposition increasing in the future.”
“EPA’s [long term monitoring] program has been a successful collaboration between EPA, state, universities, and other federal agencies to understand the ecological response and recovery from acid rain in lakes and streams across the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S.,” according to the statement.
Separately, NYSERDA has two contracts totaling around $1.2 million with USGS to conduct Adirondack stream monitoring. A USGS spokesperson said the EPA funding cut would not affect that project.
Adirondack Council John Sheehan said the monitoring program has absorbed funding cuts in the past but the EPA has never signaled its plan to abandon the long term monitoring efforts.
“That’s a very bad step for the Adirondacks,” Sheehan said.
Top photo: Both Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden in the High Peaks have been a part of the region’s longest-running lake monitoring programs.