By Ry Rivard
The Lake George Park Commission approved new construction regulations on Tuesday designed to keep the lake clear of algal blooms and other signs of pollution.
A pair of new rules, both meant to prevent pollution from ending up in the famously clear Lake George, will require changes in where and how buildings are constructed or upgraded.
One rule, known as a stormwater regulation, will require some property owners to pay more attention to how water runs off their property during storms. The goal is to keep rain and snow melt from sweeping urban pollution – fertilizer, road salt, even just unwanted rocks and soil – into the lake.
The other regulation, known as the stream corridor rule, blocks construction on the banks of streams that flow into the lake. The rule is meant to keep most kinds of development at least 35 feet away from streams.
The rules are the product of years of work and study. Years ago, proposed stream corridor rules provided a major flash point for anti-regulation activists around the lake.
On Tuesday, though, both rules with unanimously approved by the Park Commission.
“The updates and new regulations are an important next step in the protection of the Lake,” Walt Lender, the head of the nonprofit Lake George Association said in a statement after the vote. “The regulations now form a base level of protection all around the Lake, ensuring uniform protections no matter where you are in the watershed.”
The Park Commission created the lake’s first stormwater rules in the 1990s, but they haven’t been updated in over a decade. In recent years, the problem of stormwater has become better understood: Water moves faster across roofs, roads and parking lots, which means it can’t soak into the soil where pollution is often filtered away. Instead, stormwater picks up pollution and sends it directly into lakes and streams. In a lake like Lake George, where water sits around for eight years, all the pollution begins to build up.
The commission is now under increased pressure to watch what runs into the lake following a pair of algal blooms last fall, the first such documented algal blooms on the lake. While both blooms were relatively minor, larger blooms could make water undrinkable, scare away tourists and drive down property values. And more blooms seem likely if the lake continues to be a cocktail of warmer water and steady pollution from lakeside development.
The commission estimated some of the regulations that require homeowners to curb runoff could add several thousand dollars to the cost of a project, but the commission describes that as only “a small portion” of the cost of any new construction or remodeling that would trigger the regulations in the first place.
Chris Navitsky, a nonprofit watchdog known as the Lake George Waterkeeper, said neither of the new regulations goes far enough to prevent the pollution.
Still, even before the new regulations, the lake was better protected than many waterways in the country, even other lakes in the Adirondacks. A report last year that looked at towns and villages in the Upper Hudson River watershed, which includes swaths of the Adirondacks, found 60 percent of local governments did not have any stormwater regulations in place.