Water Quality

Water Quality

Protecting the Waters of the Adirondack Park

Adirondack Waters

The Adirondack Park contains more than 3,000 lakes and 8,000 ponds, and more than 1,500 miles of rivers, fed by an estimated 30,000 miles of brooks and streams. Water quality in Adirondack lakes, rivers and streams is the lifeblood of its residents and visitors, and important to people across the state and around the country. Adirondack water is for drinking and is integral to the Park’s ecological integrity. It is also the backbone of the tourism industry so vital to the local and state economy.

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Threats to water quality

Adirondack waters are threatened by sewage, failing wastewater treatment systems, illegal discharges, acid rain and mercury, the state’s excessive use of road salt, and aquatic invasive species.  Any degradation of Adirondack waters impacts New York’s economy, public health, wildlife, recreation, and tourism.

Wastewater

Failure of sewage treatment systems, wastewater plants and collection pipes leads to degradation of Adirondack waters. The impacts can be far reaching - from closing beaches to impairing pristine trout streams to threatening drinking water resources. The challenges local Adirondack governments face are enormous -- from a technical and operational obstacles to  fiscal barriers. In communities whose average population is below 1,000 residents, it’s often impossible to raise the local revenues necessary with such a limited tax base.
The Adirondack Council published two reports, in November of 2016 and November of 2017, documenting the clean water infrastructure needs of communities in the Adirondack Park. These reports, entitled Clean Water Infrastructure in the Adirondack Park: Crisis or Opportunity (2016) and Wastewater Treatment Plants in the Adirondack, Status of Compliance and Operational Need (2017), document local Clean Water Infrastructure needs.

In response to this growing need, the Governor Cuomo and state Legislature in April 2017 authorized a $2.5 billion Clean Water Program over five years to help finance wastewater and drinking water capital projects in New York State as well as other clean water initiatives. In 2019 the state authorized an additional $500 million. Already, after three successful rounds of funding awards, New York State has provided over $53 million in clean water infrastructure grants to communities in the Adirondack Park, in addition to loans.

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The Adirondack Council continues to work directly with towns and villages in the Park to help them address their on-going needs and seek further state funding from the Governor’s historic $3.0 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Grants Program.

Fiscal issues remain with communities’ limited tax base and a state limit on grants to 25% of a project’s eligible cost.

The Council is advocating for financing and grant structures that accounts for the limited tax base in the Park’s small communities that host not only residents, but millions of visitors each year.

Road Salt

On average, state roads in the Adirondacks have 37 tons of road salt applied per lane-mile per year.  More than six million tons have been applied to the Park’s roads since road salt was first used in 1980. A peer-reviewed 2013 study demonstrated that 84% of the chloride buildup in Adirondack surface waters could be directly attributed to the state’s use of salt.

Recent research conducted by the Adirondack Watershed Institute and partners found that in testing over 500 private drinking wells in the Adirondack Park, sodium levels in more than half of the wells receiving state road runoff exceeded New York State’s water quality guideline.

Both studies demonstrate that surface and groundwater have been contaminated across the Adirondacks. Public health, the environment, and economy are negatively impacted. Road salt pollution impacts are broad and difficult, if not impossible, to remediate. But, preventing ongoing contamination is not difficult.

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For 10 years the Council has been working to promote awareness of the problem of road salt, and to advance solutions. The Council has:

  • Published a road salt report titled “Low Sodium Diet” (2009) which detailed the problem and made a series of recommendations.
  • Sponsored three road salt conferences, some with AdkAction.
  • Taken successful legal action under the Federal Clean Water Act to stop pollution from an improper salt storage site by the community of Lake Colby.
  • Worked with partners to secure state trial salt reduction methods. 
  • Co-Chaired and served on the Adirondack Road Salt Working Group to advocate for change that would reverse pollution of Adirondack waters.
  • Actively promoted a Road Salt Pledge by local communities that want to show their commitment to reduce road salt use and properly store and manage road salt.

The Council is advocating that the state 1) establish a “blue ribbon commission” on road salt that will make recommendations including the setting timelines and goals with the strength of law and 2) establish a Park wide road salt reduction pilot program, and 3) provide recourse for landowners whose private drinking wells have been contaminated by state winter road maintenance practices.  Assemblyman Steve Englebright has initiated the process for securing legislative action by submitting a request for information from the Department of Transportation.

Acid Rain and Mercury

The Adirondack Park has suffered the worst acid rain damage in the nation. It has wiped out native aquatic life in hundreds of lakes and ponds in the Park. It has also broken down chemical bonds in Adirondack soils, releasing a toxic form of mercury from places where it would otherwise have remained in a harmless form. The Council has resisted changes in federal policies that caused recent increases in these pollutants.  It is working to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions – the pollutants that cause acid rain and to reduce mercury pollution from power plant smokestacks and other sources.

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The Council is advocating for tougher national emissions standards for the air pollution that causes acid rain and for tougher standards governing emissions of mercury, as well as full enforcement of the “Good Neighbor” policy that prohibits one state from causing unhealthy air in another state. 

Aquatic Invasive Species 

The waterways of the Adirondack Park are threatened by invasive plant and animal species. These non-natives displace native species and threaten biodiversity; they interfere with fishing and swimming, reduce property values and are expensive to control.

Education and mitigation efforts throughout the Adirondacks led by the Adirondack Invasive Plant Program with participation from many citizens, municipalities, and organizations have helped stem the spread of aquatic invasives. Adirondack stakeholders met in July 2019 to discuss the current state of invasive species management in the Park. 

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New York State has helped install and provide support for staffing of boat decontamination stations along key travel corridors, most recently at the Adirondack Welcome Center in Glens Falls Adirondack Welcome Center (Between Northway exits 18 and 19).

The Council advocated for a strengthening of New York’s invasives transport law when it expired in May 2019. The current law only asks boaters to make a good faith effort to “clean, drain, and dry” equipment.  We and partners secured a one-year renewal accompanied by commitments to strengthen the law in 2020.

The Council is advocating for a strengthened aquatic invasive transport law that will consider mandatory inspections and other options that will improve protections for Adirondack water bodies.  

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