Tests by the Lake George Association have shown measurable levels of caffeine and Splenda in the lake.
When a body of water takes on the characteristics of a morning cup of coffee, it is a tell-tale sign that human waste is ending up in the supposedly pristine waters of Lake George. The obvious culprit is most likely leaky septic tanks. And it’s not the only sign: recent algal blooms in some parts of the lake – the first ones anyone can remember – point to the same culprit and suggest a significant problem.
But as Ry Rivard of Adirondack Explorer wrote for the Times Union, the 6,000 or so sewage treatment plants along the lake are not tested or monitored by the state. Environmentalists and many homeowners want this to change, and rightly so.
The urge for more surveillance is hardly new or revolutionary. In fact, as far back as the 1980s, state lawmakers reinforced the Lake George Park Commission and tasked it with overseeing keeping sewage away from the lake. Today, however, the Commission does not have a single person in charge of regulating wastewater. And it is not that the Commission is unaware of this duty. As Queensbury Supervisor John Strough pointed out in a recent comment, there is even a “Wastewater Regulations” page on his website. However, the page is blank.
That is inexcusable, as is the state’s apparent reluctance to take action – despite algal blooms that could potentially pose a risk to human health. To be clear, no government agency ensures that Lake George’s sewer systems are working properly.
The City of Queensbury has stepped in to their credit by requiring sewage plant inspections when real estate is sold. The results are telling: about 80 percent of the systems inspected need to be repaired, demonstrating the need for sea-wide surveillance and why government inaction is so confusing.
Routine septic inspections are mandatory at Lakes Keuka, Otsego, and Cayuga, to name a few examples from across the state. To protect the water supply, New York City is even offering financial assistance to help the Catskills owners upgrade their sewage treatment plants. Yet there is no similar protection for Lake George. That needs to change.
Objections to septic surveillance tend to focus on the costs involved, especially for homeowners whose systems are judged to be faulty. The concern is understandable as new systems can cost around $ 30,000.
However, the cost of fixing problems cannot be a reason to ignore them. Not when the cost of inaction is so high – for the real estate values of those who maintain their septic tanks and those who don’t, for tourism and the Nordland economy. And above all for the health of the lake – and all the people who live from it, swim in it and draw drinking water from it.
Lake George is a public resource, after all, and private landowners on its shores have a special responsibility to protect its waters for all. Also the state of New York.