Protecting One Little Stream Will Have Big Benefits to Lake George

It would have been easier to just look the other way. Chalk it up to Mother Nature. Turn her attention to more pleasant pastimes.

But when Virginia “Ginny” Rowan Smith saw the damage wreaked by a torrential rainstorm on the seasonal stream that runs down the Oneida Bay property she owns with her husband, Manning, and saw that their retention pond was nearly overflowing with silt and mud, she knew she had to act to protect Lake George water quality.

Ginny is a Lake Protector.

A Bay In Need, A Protector In Deed

Located in the Warren County hamlet of Silver Bay, Oneida Bay (also known as Van Buren Bay) has been identified by the Lake George Association’s science and technical team as a priority for protection due to water quality threats arising from both its natural and man-made characteristics. Eighty percent of the land in this area is comprised of steep slopes (15% or greater) leading down to the Lake. Steep slopes result in greater and faster-moving amounts of stormwater runoff cascading down from nearby mountains and Route 9N, as well as from Oneida Bay residences, causing erosion and sedimentation and picking up algae-feeding nutrients, road salt, and contaminants on its way to the Lake.

Virginia "Ginny" Rowan Smith from Oneida Bay is a Lake Protector at Lake George

Compounding the threat, more than half of the properties in this portion of the Bay’s watershed are located in the Critical Environmental Area (CEA) -- a band of land extending back 500 feet from the Lake that has been shown to have an inordinate influence on water quality. In addition, 10% of the CEA is covered by impervious surfaces such as roofs, roads, walkways, and patios that facilitate stormwater flow into the Lake rather than capturing and filtering it. Impervious surfaces covering more than 10% of the CEA will have an impact on water quality, putting Oneida Bay right on the tipping point.

Ginny Smith’s family has been caring for their Oneida Bay property where she and her family spend their summers since it was purchased by her grandmother, Margaret Boyd Rowan, a single mother of four young children, in 1936.   A conservationist at heart, Mrs. Rowan recognized the importance of Lake George as a source of drinking water and instilled this in the minds of her children and grandchildren.  Over the years Mrs. Rowan earned well-deserved recognition as a dedicated protector of the Lake. The same can be said of her children, including noted conservationist and philanthropist Henry M. Rowan—Ginny’s father.

Clearly, this legacy of Lake protection was on Ginny’s mind following the massive Halloween night rainstorm in 2019.

Stepping Up To Protect The Lake

In less than 12 hours, the treacherous storm dumped nearly a half-foot of rain on the Lake and its already saturated watershed, causing extensive flooding and damaging numerous roads and structures.  The rain overwhelmed the stormwater culvert on the Smiths’ property, creating a ‘firehose effect’ that gouged out both banks of the seasonal stream,  sending large amounts of sediment into the stream, and dispersing the water up and out of the stream channel and across the property, where it could easily pick up and carry even more sediment, nutrients, and contaminants into the Lake. The storm also sent large volumes of sediment into the stormwater retention pond built by Ginny’s father for Lake-protection purposes 20 years before. Only the natural berm prevented the water from flowing into the Lake -- and that was just a matter of time because the berm was threatened, too.

If you have a stream on your property, you have to recognize that the stream water — and the property’s storm runoff that makes its way to the stream — is going to end up in the Lake, and it’s our responsibility to monitor the stream and keep it clean and free of silt and nutrients that feed the harmful algae. 

Virginia "Ginny" Rowan Smith

Ginny’s first call was to Walt Lender of the LGA. “We’ve got to do something,” she told Walt, who soon visited the property with colleague Randy Rath. In short order, Randy developed a plan for stream and pond remediation, as well as future stormwater safeguards.

Ginny then retained the services of DeFranco Landscaping to execute the plan. The DeFranco team performed approximately 300 feet of stream restoration work, including excavation of 100-120 cubic yards – the equivalent of six or seven large dump-truck loads— of sediment from the stream and pond. They also added new erosion controls, including a much larger culvert, a concrete catch basin in the pond location, and stream buffer plantings. Ginny has also added to the safeguards herself, planting new protective ferns along the stream’s banks, something she fondly remembers her grandmother doing.

“If you have a stream on your property, you have to recognize that the stream water — and the property’s storm runoff that makes its way to the stream — is going to end up in the Lake, and it’s our responsibility to monitor the stream and keep it clean and free of silt and nutrients that feed the harmful algae,” Ginny says.   “Given the steep slope behind our property, it will probably be necessary every couple of years to dig out the silt that builds up and finds its way into the catch basin before it reaches the Lake.”

 In addition to their extensive stormwater protections, Ginny and Manning are working to reconfigure their property’s septic system by moving the leach field up the hill above their home, more than 500 feet away from the Lake.

“Every single person can do something to protect Lake George,” she says. “If you’re a landowner, particularly, I think understanding the impact that your property has on the Lake is absolutely critical.”

A True Lake Protector

Ginny’s dedicated actions to protect Lake George reflect exactly the type of commitment the LGA is working to foster among residential and commercial property owners through our new Lake Protector initiative – a comprehensive community outreach program to inform, empower, and assist people in taking direct protective actions on their properties to keep Lake George clear and clean for generations to come.

Property owners who register will receive a Personal Protection Plan identifying the most serious water quality threats in their area of the Lake and the specific actions they can take on their property to address them.

Ginny encourages property owners to register as Lake Protectors and to contact the LGA for technical assistance in implementing their protection plans. She says she is encouraged by the growing number of Lakeside residents she encounters – particularly multi-generational property owners – who are stepping up for Lake George.

“We had such wonderful experiences as children here, that we want to provide that same experience for our children, our grandchildren and their children, on into perpetuity.”