10 Areas in Town of Lake George Identified as Priorities for Protecting Lake from Aging Septic Systems

February 12, 2019

This announcement was published prior to the merger of the LGA with The FUND for Lake George in June 2021.

The FUND for Lake George Presents Town with Final Report, Recommendations, Based on Algorithm Developed by Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky

With a goal of protecting Lake George from aging septic systems, The FUND for Lake George and Lake George Waterkeeper have completed a major assessment of near-shore systems on behalf of the Town of Lake George, identifying 10 areas of the Town deserving of priority attention, and offering a series of recommendations for preventive or corrective actions.

The analysis was commissioned by the Town as part of its Septic Initiative Program, and funded in part by a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Water Quality Improvement Project grant. Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky presented the final report on the assessment to the Town Board at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 11.

Lake George’s legendary water quality is threatened by increasing levels of nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen escaping from aging septic systems. The increased nutrients have resulted in benthic algal blooms, and pose a risk for the development of harmful algal blooms (HABs), which can be dangerous for humans and aquatic life. HABs have developed in a number of New York State lakes in recent years, but not in Lake George.

Priority Areas Identified

The FUND and Waterkeeper, which is a program of The FUND, identified 10 priority areas deserving of attention through the use of an original prioritization algorithm developed by Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky.

The algorithm was created using:

  • Data from an inventory of more than 400 septic systems that are within 500 feet of the Lake and 100 feet of tributary streams. The inventory examined the age of each system and whether it is within its standard life expectancy; the size of the system and whether it is adequate to meet current household demands; and the frequency in which the system has been pumped. Findings were that approximately two-thirds of the systems are near or past their standard life expectancy of 30-40 years, or the age of the system is unknown; approximately one-in-five are under-sized; approximately one-third are of unknown size and construction; and more than half have an undocumented pump-out history.
  • Data regarding each property’s suitability for hosting a septic system, based on such land characteristics as depth to groundwater and bedrock, soil type, slope and distance to surface waters; and
  • Data from site-specific water quality testing and sampling for the presence of algae — an important indicator of excess nutrients.

A three-layer GIS map was then created using the data, and the 10 priority areas were identified as: North Diamond Point, South Diamond Point, Smokey Bear Area, South Green Harbour, Stebbins Brook Area, Sunnyview Area, Westover Cover, Wiawaka Area, Sand Pebble Cover, and Plum Point.

The FUND and Waterkeeper caution that conclusions about the performance of specific septic systems within these areas cannot be made without an onsite inspection. Systems located closest to the lake are not necessarily the cause of nutrient loading, as contamination can originate from farther away and enter the Lake through nearby steams and/or cracks in subsurface rocks.


Based on their findings, The Fund and Waterkeeper presented the Town with 25 recommendations for preventive or corrective actions to be implemented in phases over the next five years. The recommendations are divided into five categories: Management, Outreach, Regulation, Monitoring and Funding.

The first-year recommendations are as follows:

Management: Establish an inspection program for those properties where there is no information available on the age, design or maintenance of the septic system; and develop a GIS database of the system inventory for use by the Town’s Planning and Zoning Department;

Outreach: Provide a presentation on the assessment to the Town Planning and Zoning boards, and the Consolidated Board of Health, as well as other municipal boards in the watershed;

Regulation: Adopt a law requiring inspection of a septic system at the time a property is transferred to a new owner;

Monitoring: Compare the results of algae biomonitoring to inspection-priority properties;

Funding: Work with The Fund for Lake George and other Warren County municipalities to identify and apply for grant funding to assist property owners in the priority areas with replacing aging septic systems.

“The Town of Lake George has once again demonstrated its commitment to protecting the Lake through the commissioning of this study,” said Eric Siy, Executive Director of The FUND for Lake George. “Information is the first and most important step to pre-empting or solving a problem, and The FUND and Waterkeeper are pleased to work closely with the Town to provide a systematic, data-based approach to keeping Lake George clear and clean forever.”

“We’re hopeful too that this information will raise awareness among property owners for the critical importance of proper septic system maintenance, and that we’ll be able to develop innovative ways to help them through grants and other funding mechanisms, whether they need a routine pump-out or a complete system replacement.”

Waterkeeper Navitsky, who oversaw the project, said, “Our findings provide justification for a management system to reduce impacts to Lake George, and we look forward to working with the Town to establish this system. We are extremely fortunate that harmful algal blooms have not impacted our environment or economy like they have in other places around the state, and by working together — The FUND, municipalities, the business community and homeowners — we can continue to keep them out.”

Mr. Navitsky said the findings of the septic system condition inventory in the Town of Lake George are similar to those previously found on Dunham’s Bay in the Town of Queensbury and likely hold true for other communities around the Lake. But, he said, fortunately, the solutions identified during the study can be applied in those communities, as well.

“With this study, the Town of Lake George has provided a model for other communities to follow in assessing and addressing the condition of their septic systems and their impacts on the Lake,” Mr. Navitsky said.

“The value of this study to the long-term health of the lake can be immeasurable and enduring,” said Lake George Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson. “It is an investment in our environment and our economy, which go hand-in-hand, and one of many investments on the part of both the public and private sectors that will ensure our Lake is protected for generations to come.”

The FUND’s recommendation for septic system inspections in the Town conforms with the Priority Projects identified in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan for Lake George. Since the publication of that Plan in early 2018, The FUND has helped implement three of the five Priority Projects, including the addition of a woodchip bioreactor at the Bolton Landing wastewater treatment plant to extract nitrogen and phosphorus, and enhancements to the treatment plants in Bolton Landing and Hague.

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