Barbara Simms: Partnering with Neighbors to Protect Dunhams Bay from Failing Septic Systems

The following profile was prepared by The FUND for Lake George prior to its 2021 merger with the LGA.

July 2020

The members of the Dunhams Bay Association have led by example when it comes to protecting Lake George from outdated and failing septic systems and the threat of harmful algal blooms. Association member Barbara Simms has been one of the leading champions — rallying her neighbors behind an initiative that, with help from a matching grant program provided by The FUND for Lake George, has spurred the replacement of 21 systems over the past five years.

“We’ve shown a path that other neighborhoods around the Lake can follow.”

It all started with some photographs.

Up until the summer of 2011, Barbara and her husband were like most of their neighbors in the quiet cluster of mostly seasonal, older, cottage-style homes tucked along the southeastern shore of the Lake. They enjoyed living Lakeside…unaware of the increasing amounts of algae growing beneath the water’s surface.

That was the summer The FUND presented members of the Association with what Barbara calls “disturbing” underwater photographs of excessive algae growth in their special place on the Lake. The culprit was believed to be excess nutrients leaking from failing septic systems, many of which dated back to the cottages’ origins decades ago.

Barbara Simms sitting with lake as background

Over the next two years, the Simmses worked alongside The FUND to further document the problem, hoping to head off the type of toxic bloom that has devastated the ecology and economies of lakeside communities across the country. The FUND’s Lake George Waterkeeper program tested the algae and conclusively determined its source. The Simmses conducted research that found nearly two-thirds of the septic systems on the Bay were completely undocumented as far as their location and date or type of construction. Barbara, a teacher, took on a new teaching assignment — educating, motivating and organizing her neighbors to take action.

“We love the Lake, we love our homes and I think many people knew their system was antiquated, they knew it in the back of their minds, but it wasn’t something that was talked about,” Barbara says. “Once you saw the photographs, though, you couldn’t ignore the issue. There was community support for finding out what was going on and how to fix it.”

By late Summer 2013, nearly 70% of Bay property owners had signed a petition asking the Queensbury Town Board to consider the possibility of a wastewater disposal district. In December 2014, the North Queensbury Wastewater Disposal District #1 was established. The District is eligible to pursue grant funding for system improvements, and also collects an annual fee from District members, which is used to offset the cost of District operations and to reimburse homeowners one half of the cost of a pump-out every three years.

To help propel the replacement of outdated systems, The FUND created a matching grant program that has donated a total of $156,000 toward the replacement of 17 systems. Other property owners have replaced systems entirely at their own expense. In total, more than half of the 60-plus systems on the Bay are now operating within their expected life spans.

“The formation of our District would not have been possible without the support of many different groups,” Barbara says. “Homeowners were interested, we had research and scientific facts to back up our arguments, local government officials were encouraging, the technology existed which provided a reasonably priced solution for septic replacement, and the financial incentive offered by The FUND proved invaluable to the success of our District’s first six years.”

“We’ve laid a foundation that will enable our District to go forward and we’ve shown a path that other neighborhoods around the Lake can follow,” Barbara adds. “It’s just the beginning of what can and should be done around the Lake.”

Taking Barbara’s words and the leadership of the Dunhams Bay Association to heart, The FUND for Lake George has launched the basin-wide Safe Septic System Program with the goal of ensuring that every outdated and failing system is replaced as soon as possible to safeguard our deeply shared legacy of love for Lake George. For more information, visit