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Lake Protector Summit engages property owners in Lake George

 Lake George
Lucas Willard
Lake George

The Lake George Association has launched a new effort to get property owners to play a larger role in protecting the Queen of American Lakes. On what’s sometimes referred to as the most technologically-advanced lake in the world, Lake George residents can now use an app to learn how they can improve water quality. The technology was demonstrated at the LGA’s first-ever Lake Protector Summit.

The conference center at the Fort William Henry Hotel at the south basin of Lake George was filled with lake advocates and local property owners as researchers from the Lake George Association detailed ecological impacts on the 32-mile body of water.

Brian Mattes, Senior Research Specialist with the Jefferson Project – a collaboration between IBM Research, RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute, and the LGA – walked attendees through a slideshow one of Lake George’s more recent threats: harmful algal blooms.

“This accumulation of colonies can be so dense that it looks like green paint on the surface of the water. And just like with most other organisms, once their population peaks and they have run out of food, they sink back to the bottom and go dormant, starting the cycle all over again,” said Mattes.

The first HAB was discovered on Lake George in November 2020. It’s attributed in part to increases in nutrients into the lake from aging septic systems, lawn fertilizers, and stormwater runoff. While many upgrades have been made in recent years to reduce nutrient-loading, including the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility in the Village of Lake George, climate change can make problems like HABs worse.

Eric Siy is the LGA’s president.

“Water quality is declining,” said Siy. “We know that if, unless we up our game, unless we give everyone a role to play and create this very big tent approach, we will lose the lake.”

Protecting water quality for a lake that drives a multi-billion-dollar economy is a top concern for advocates and local officials. Lake George has become a national model for reducing road salt pollution, managing the threats of invasive species, and now, civic engagement.

LGA’s Lake Protector campaign is designed to get more residents involved. A mobile Lake Protector App allows property owners to get details about their land and what they can do to manage stormwater and septic pollution.

LGA Managing Program Director Monika LaPlante demonstrated the program on the big screen, showing a lakefront parcel and details about its geography, impermeable surfaces, and more.

“So this property has some steep slopes on it, you’ll see by the pink coverage – and I’ll just zoom out a little bit so you can see, the whole watershed is covered here – and because you have steep slopes, you are given a very specific answer and it tells you what to do and then you are given actions based on that,” said LaPlante.

The app also provides solutions to potential problems and links to available funding to help manage risks.

Gene Porter, who recently re-located to the northern end of the lake, came to the conference with his own concerns about managing stormwater.

“I have a small waterfront place with a dock and boats in Ticonderoga and I want to make sure that I'm doing what the community wants me to do on protecting the lake. And that's why I raised the issue about stormwater today because I am one of the 35,000 private homes in the watershed that has untreated stormwater that goes into the lake,” said Porter.

Kathy Ervolina and her husband Sal live off Dunham’s Bay in the southern portion of the lake, signed up for the Lake Protector App. About 500 property owners have registered so far in the watershed where more than 9,000 properties are eligible.

“It has to be done. The lake has to be protected.”

The Ervolinas have done some work on their property to protect the lake – replacing their home’s septic system with a model designed to reduce impacts. Kathy says she’s now interested in ways to reduce stormwater runoff.

“We're doing some work on the property and I'm interested in possibly upgrading the landscaping to prevent runoff and stuff, so that's why we wanted to take a look at this program,” Ervolina.

The LGA’s Eric Siy says the Lake Protector program goes further than past efforts focused on merely educating residents and public officials.

“We are now service providers. Right? So we are doing some of the advanced work the legwork to catalyze participation and protection. The app is one piece of that. It is a tool that allows you to expedite the role you play in participating in protection. It's critical to the process. Otherwise, you know, people are busy, their lives are already full, what can we do to make sure they play their part,” said Siy.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.