November 18, 2022
The Lake George Association and Lake George Waterkeeper have completed our review of the Lake George Park Commission’s proposed Lake George wastewater management regulations and we commend everyone involved for proposing this much-needed step toward improved water quality protection.
Excess nutrients, particularly phosphorus, entering Lake George from aging, noncompliant, and/or improperly maintained septic systems are among the greatest threats to the Lake’s legendary water quality. Phosphorus aggressively feeds algae-growth and increases the risk of larger and lengthier harmful algal blooms like those that have devastated other lakes and lake-based economies.
The mandatory five-year inspection and maintenance program proposed by the Commission for septic systems within 500 feet of the Lake and 100 feet of regulated streams is strongly supported by science that conclusively demonstrates:
- the threat to the Lake from aging, noncompliant and/or improperly maintained septic systems, and
- the critical role that environmental factors, such as soil permeability, play in effective wastewater treatment.
We urge the LGPC Commissioners to approve the proposed regulations with one important change as described below – and we encourage everyone who cares about the future of the Lake to join us in voicing your support.
The LGPC will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 4 p.m. at the Fort William Henry Conference Center in Lake George Village. The hearing will also be available live on Zoom through a link at the Park Commission’s website. In addition, letters of support can be submitted to the Park Commission at [email protected] no later than close of business Wednesday, Nov. 30.
INSPECTION PROGRAM SUMMARY
Under the proposed regulations, all septic systems in the Lake George basin that are within 500 feet of the Lake George shoreline or 100 feet from a DEC-regulated stream flowing into Lake George will be inspected once every five years by trained Park Commission staff. Simultaneous with the inspection, the property owner will be required to have the system pumped out by a certified septic hauler. The cost of the inspection will be covered by an annual fee paid by all property owners within the inspection program area ($50 for residential properties, $100 for commercial properties). The cost of the system pump out will be paid directly by the property owner.
Following the inspection, the LGPC inspector will make one of three determinations:
- The system passed, in which case no further action will be required until the next inspection in five years.
- The system failed. Here, the property owner will have a maximum of six months to bring the system into compliance with applicable design standards. Depending on the risk to public health and/or the environment, corrective action may be required sooner.
- The system is found to be “substandard.” In this case, the property owner will have a maximum of five years to bring the system into compliance with applicable design standards. Depending on the risk to public health and/or the environment, corrective action may be required sooner.
A “substandard” determination will be made if any of the following conditions exist:
- The septic tank has less than 100% of the capacity required by state law.
- The absorption area (leach field) is located less than 50 feet from Lake George or a DEC-regulated stream emptying into the Lake.
- The absorption area has less than 75% of the required capacity.
Regarding item #2 above, the LGA and Lake George Waterkeeper are requesting that the Park Commission change the definition of a “substandard” system to include absorption areas that are located less than 100 feet from Lake George or a DEC-regulated stream emptying into the Lake.
A 100-foot separation has been required by the New York State Department of Health for newly installed septic systems since 1990, and even earlier by a number of local municipalities. Any absorption area in closer proximity than that should be considered “substandard.”
The greatest algae-feeding nutrient of concern to Lake George is phosphorus, and most of the phosphorus removal within a septic system takes place in the soil absorption area through biological processes as well as physical and chemical reactions. Because soils in the Lake George basin are predominantly thin and sandy, wastewater flows through a soil absorption area and into the Lake and streams very quickly. Absorption areas that are located less than 100 feet from the Lake or streams do not provide enough treatment time to adequately remove phosphorus.
The LGA and Lake George Waterkeeper once again congratulate and thank LGPC Executive Director Dave Wick and his staff, the LGPC Commissioners, the members of the Commission’s Ad-Hoc and Technical Committees on Septic Systems, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Department of Health, and Governor Hochul’s administration for recognizing the critical importance of a septic system inspection and maintenance program to the long-term health of Lake George.
The potential environmental and economic damage of a major harmful algal bloom on The Queen of American Lakes is something none of us want to consider. We can do our very best to guard against that nightmare by ensuring septic systems around the Lake are working properly. These proposed regulations will be key to achieving this goal.