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Climate Change, Harmful Algal Blooms, Stormwater Runoff: the Problem is Us

Climate Change, Harmful Algal Blooms, Stormwater Runoff: the Problem is Us July 5, 2023
Photo of Lake George shore.
“We are giving people the information they need to make a difference” – Eric Siy, president, the Lake George Association. Photo courtesy LGA

The chemical phosphorus, washed by the intensified, heavier rains of our day from lawns, driveways and parking lots into the tributaries of Lake George and then into the depths of the lake itself, is among the incontrovertible sources of harmful algal blooms.

But unlike climate change – whose sudden, intense storms are releasing excess phosphorus from the soils of even Forest Preserve lands into marshes and streams –  stormwater runoff is something that can be abated immediately, by the residents and business owners of the Lake George watershed.

“Stormwater is the main avenue for these nutrients making their way into this lake, and with more intense storms, the runoff carries more sediments and nutrients with it in the first flush,” said Brian Mattes, a Senior Research Associate at RPI. “We have to limit that as much as possible. Good management practices are essential.”

“We know what it’s going to take to reduce the risk of more harmful algal blooms, larger blooms and blooms that turn toxic,” said Eric Siy, the president of the Lake George Association.

It was a humid Sunday evening in June and Siy and Mattes were speaking to the score or so of people gathered in a private home near Diamond Point for the first of this summer’s series of “Bay by Bay” events, where, as Siy explained, “we bring what we know about Lake George and what we know needs done for Lake George to those communities that care most.”

According to Siy, 44 billion gallons of stormwater enter the lake every year.

Although the Lake George Park Commission has updated its stormwater regulations and banned the use of phosphorus-based fertilizers within fifty feet of shore, regulations alone will not reduce the volume or impacts of stormwater to any appreciable degree, said Siy.

“This doesn’t mean that we don’t need regulations, but non-point source pollution is so diffusive that it’s difficult to regulate effectively. Even the Environmental Protection Agency has thrown up its hands,” said Siy.

Rather than relying upon regulations, the LGA is going to the source of the problem: us.

A few days earlier, on June 22, the LGA sponsored an “Inaugural Lake Protector Summit” at the Carriage House at Fort William Henry to instruct residential and commercial property owners about the roles they can play in halting the decline Lake George’s water quality.

Among the speakers was landscape architect Amy Houghton, whose recent work at Canoe Island Lodge was cited as a living model of what can be done to reduce the flow of stormwater from even – or especially – steeply sloped properties.

“That’s leading by example, showing us what it’s going to take to secure this priceless place and keep Lake George clear and clean,” said Eric Siy.

According to Siy, the June 22 event was attended by 130 people with a variety of perspectives: that of the public official, the business owner, the lakefront resident, the visitor.

“Everyone who attended felt compelled to learn what is confronting the lake and to learn what they can do to participate directly in its protection, not passively but actively. It requires the participation of everyone,” said Siy.

“The Inaugural Lake Protectors Summit” was preceded by the release of a first-of-its-kind web app that, according to the LGA, provides property owners with detailed evaluations of how their properties’ physical characteristics may be impacting Lake George.

Combining publicly available data with geospatial mapping technology, the LGA has created individualized “LGA Lake Protector Profiles” for 9,300 developed properties in the Lake George watershed, the organization stated in a press release.

According to the LGA, the profiles evaluate eight key physical characteristics that can influence water quality

“From slope to soils to impervious surfaces, to tree cover, to its location, whether it be a critical environmental area or near a stream, these are all factors that can influence water quality,” said Eric Siy.

The LGA stated that it also offers the property owners science-based plans that, if implemented, will reduce the excess nutrients entering the lake from stormwater runoff.

“We will provide you with a curated list of recommended actions for your property, adapted for the conditions that prevail at your location,” said Siy. “Information is power, and this is empowering information. We are giving people the information they need to make a difference.”

For more information about the LGA’s Lake Protector programs, visit

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