When Tony DeFranco returned to his hometown of Hague in 2010 to manage his family’s longtime landscaping business, his goal was not only to help homeowners and businesses beautify their properties but to protect Lake George while doing so.
Eleven years later — and four years after Tony purchased the business — DeFranco Landscaping is recognized across the region for leading by example in environmentally conscious and sustainable design and management, with a particular emphasis on stormwater measures and green infrastructure. It’s a commitment he says was started by his parents, David and JoAnne, both former teachers, more than 30 years ago and instilled in him as a child growing up in a hilly lakeside community.
“We don’t take anything lightly when it comes to working on Lake George. We know that every drop of water ends up in the Lake eventually,” says Tony, who holds a civil engineering degree, with a concentration in environmental engineering, from Clarkson University, and also operates a companion engineering consulting firm. “Our customers are trusting that we’re going to do the right thing for the Lake.”
Lake’s Pressures are ‘Relentless’
Tony calls the pressures on the Lake’s water quality today “relentless,” primarily stemming from large volumes of stormwater eroding the shoreline and washing nutrients and other contaminants from paved areas and lawns into the Lake. Stormwater also exacerbates septic system pollution, he says, as heavy rains that infiltrate and elevate the groundwater table can overwhelm a drainage field’s ability to keep nutrients and pollutants from entering the Lake.
In recent years, Tony says, he’s seen an increasing interest in water quality protection among his customers, particularly those with Lakefront properties that have been handed down from generation to generation. But he still sees significant room for improvement throughout the watershed.
“It’s human nature,” Tony says. “You want to live on the Lake, you buy a property and you want to build this nice house with four or five bedrooms. But some of these lots just can’t handle that amount of development. There are definitely people who are pushing the envelope.”
Going Above and Beyond for Protection
Whether it’s new construction or the modernization of a long-time family home, Tony says he strives to help his customers understand how the development of their property, inside and out, will impact the Lake’s water quality — and how engineered landscaping elements like rain gardens, pocket ponds, permeable pavers, vegetative swales, and shoreline buffers made from native trees and shrubs can both beautify the property’s appearance and dramatically improve its environmental performance.
“We start by asking, ‘How can we make this property the best it can be with the resources the client has?’” Tony says. “We try to work with them to go above and beyond the regulations because it’s the right thing to do.”
This commitment to Lake Protection on the part of the DeFranco family and their entire team was recognized by The FUND for Lake George (now the Lake George Association) in 2017 with its presentation of the Irving Langmuir Award for excellence in Low-Impact Development practices. In 2010, the Lake George Watershed Coalition honored the family with the Frank Leonbruno Memorial Lake Stewardship Award for the use of native plants in their landscape designs.
With Future Generations in Mind
Tony says he first developed his love of Lake George as a child, swimming and boating from 50 feet of beloved Lake frontage owned by his grandparents. After his junior year at Clarkson, he spent the summer working as a laboratory assistant at RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute in Bolton Landing, collecting and testing water samples. That’s where he says he truly gained an appreciation of the complex challenges facing the Lake and began thinking about how he could play a role in solving them.
Fourteen years after beginning his professional engineering career, the lure of the clean, clear water brought Tony home, with the future of the Lake in mind. His businesses have been protecting Lake George, one shorefront property at a time, ever since.
“The retention time in Lake George is approximately seven years, so it takes a drop of water that enters the Lake seven years before it flows over the LaChute River,” he says. “The impacts of what happens today, we’ll see years from now. What we’re doing right now … it’s not for you or me, it’s for future generations.”