Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute and the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District have collaborated on a comprehensive study detailing long term trends of the water quality in Hamilton County lakes. The report, “The State of Hamilton County Lakes: A 25 Year Perspective 1993 – 2017”, was developed to deliver a countywide assessment of the current and historical water quality status and guide future watershed management decisions. The report serves as a resource for lake managers, local communities, government agencies, researchers and interested individuals.
Twenty-one lakes in Hamilton County were chosen for the program after the County Board of Supervisors recognized the need to protect the county’s vital water resources. The county’s Soil and Water District has been collecting this data for more than two decades with funding from New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund and the Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance.
Some of the most iconic waterbodies in the Adirondacks such as Blue Mountain Lake and Sacandaga Lake reside in Hamilton County. It is also home to approximately 4,500 year-round residents and is a summer vacation destination for thousands of people. Its waterbodies provide important sources for clean drinking water, recreation, and habitat for fish, wildlife and plants.
The study examines acidity, nutrient content, water clarity, dissolved oxygen and a number of other variables. The publication provides detailed Individual Lake Reports for each lake in the study as well as an informative primer on lake science. Researchers at Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute analyzed the water samples and interpreted the results.
“In general, the water quality of the study lakes is very good,” said Corey Laxson, Senior Research Associate at Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute and lead author of the report. “One of the things the lakes all share in common is that the vast majority of their watersheds are comprised of intact forest. In fact, 67% of the county as a whole is protected New York State land. Lakes that reside in intact forested ecosystems with low amounts of development typically retain desirable water quality characteristics.”
The lake study draws many important conclusions. On a positive note, lakes in Hamilton County are exhibiting a clear signal of recovery from acid deposition; however, on a more concerning note, over 80% of the lakes showed a downward trend in transparency.
“One of the more intriguing findings was that the Hamilton County lakes are becoming less transparent. Transparency is a term used to describe how clear the water is by examining how deep light penetrates through the water column. Hamilton County lakes are not as clear as they were 25 years ago,” said Laxson.
The authors conclude that the reduction in transparency is likely related to changes in regional climate variables as well as recovery from acid deposition.
Another concerning finding in the report is that 91% of the study lakes were influenced by road salt. Wide spread use of salt on NYS routes 30, 28, and 8 have resulted in elevated concentrations of sodium and chloride in the water. Some lakes, such as Oxbow, Eight, and Blue Mountain have chloride concentrations that are 60 to 100 times greater than background levels.
A major take-home message from the report is that sustained research and long term monitoring programs are essential for understanding lake ecology, particularly in the ever-growing shadow of human activities
“We all take for granted that our water is high quality”, said Dan Kelting, Executive Director for the Adirondack Watershed Institute. “The reality is that without scientists conducting long term monitoring we can’t detect ecosystem changes and be in the position to address threats to our aquatic resources. Long term data, like those used in this report, are critical to identify any existing problems, track emerging issues, and understand recovery of our waterbodies from impacts like acid rain.”
“I thank all of our partners who assisted in the compilation of Hamilton County Lake report” said the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager, Caitlin Stewart. “Tax payer dollars are saved when a water quality problem is detected and remediated in its early stages. This report emphasizes the importance of protecting our water resources for our current and future generations.”
The Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed creates scientific knowledge about terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and human relationships with the environment; enhances the educational opportunities available for undergraduate students; and engages the Adirondack community in stewardship of our natural resources. AWI offers a range of services to the public, including invasive species management, water quality monitoring, recreational use studies, ecological studies, educational programs and publications.
Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District has been working to manage and promote the wise use of natural resources in Hamilton County since 1965. It is continuing to monitor water quality on its lakes.