A Call for the Business of Freshwater Protection

October 25, 2023

LAKE GEORGE — Protecting Lake George and other freshwater bodies held centerstage at the Warren County Economic Development Corp’s (EDC’s) annual lunch on October 24 at The Carriage House. The vision: To build on The Jefferson Project at Lake George to establish Lake George as the preeminent center of freshwater protection in the United States.

“Freshwater protection should be an essential element of our economy,” said Jim Siplon, EDC president and board member of the LGA. “To thrive as a region, we must align sustainable economy and sustainable nature. Now is our time to lead.”

Science to Solutions for the Protection of Lake George
Approximately 260 people from businesses within the region listened intently as keynote speaker Dr. John E. Kelly III explained the research of The Jefferson Project, now in its 10th year, with an emphasis on harmful algal blooms (HABs). 

Phase 1 of The Jefferson Project — a collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), IBM Research, and the Lake George Association (LGA) to understand the impact of human activity on fresh water and how to mitigate those effects — focused on high-tech monitoring of the Lake to understand its behavior. 

Phase 2 embraces a Science to Solutions approach, with findings from the Project informing Lake protection efforts and advocacy, headed by the LGA. Dr. Kelly pointed to road salt reduction as an early example. Monitoring showed a continuing increase in water salinity, which is now lessening in some areas as a result of the Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative

Phase 3 is the Project’s current pivot to understand and mitigate HABs. “They have an immense economic effect,” Dr. Kelly said. “New York State is ground zero for HABs.”  A corresponding slide stated the impact of freshwater HABs on the nation’s economy is $4.6 billion. 

The Jefferson Project has made significant strides in unraveling the complexity of why HABs occur. Contrary to popular belief, the blooms are not a surface water issue. The entire water column is involved, as are weather, wind, lake circulation, matter on the lakebed, lake biology, and stormwater runoff — which carries large amounts of nutrients that promote algae growth.

Because climate change is increasing the amount of stormwater that enters the Lake, “we have to manage the entire watershed,” Dr. Kelly said, and “we must keep the Lake on a low-nutrient diet.” To address this, the LGA created the free Lake Protector Profile app, which helps property owners throughout the watershed take action to manage stormwater.

To date, none of the HABs in Lake George have been toxic. To keep it that way, Jefferson Project researchers are studying the genome of cyanobacteria (algae that forms blooms in Lake George) to see what turns on toxicity so they can turn that gene off. Dr. Kelly expects the Project will have a better understanding of HAB toxicity next year. 

Ready to Step Forward
Dr. Martin Schmidt, President of RPI, who followed as guest speaker, said The Jefferson Project is an opportunity for the Capital Region to step forward and contribute to the nation. 

“We must leverage what we have as an unfair advantage,” he said, referring to Lake George, The Adirondack Park, and The Jefferson Project. “We have the foundation. Who are the right partners to turn the freshwater conversation into a business enterprise?”

The lunch was clearly intended to pique interest within the business community. Jim Siplon closed the event by declaring he’s never been so optimistic: “We have what it takes. It’s ours to make. To make it part of the Capital Region. To make it a beacon in the North Country.”

Jim Siplon and Dr. John E. Kelly III

EDC president Jim Siplon (left) and Dr. John E. Kelly III, retired IBM executive and current chair of the RPI Board, at the Warren County EDC Lunch.

Dr. Martin Schmidt

Dr. Martin Schmidt, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, posed the question: Who are the right partners to turn the freshwater conversation into a business enterprise?