Carla Kolbe - Gordon’s Marina in Mayfield on the Great Sacandaga Lake.
By JAIME STUDD
For the Express
With the lazy days of summer less than a week away, recreational activity on the Great Sacandaga Lake is in full swing. Residents and visitors alike have already begun flocking to the lake’s cool waters to enjoy a day of leisure, and thanks to a recent report from a nationally recognized laboratory, they can do so with their minds at ease.
The Darrin Fresh Water Institute released its annual year-end report on coliform and zooplankton levels throughout the lake, and the news appears to be good for recreational users of one of the area’s most popular attractions.
“All indications are that the water quality of Great Sacandaga Lake exceeds all standards for swimming or wading,” the report reads.
Authored by Lawrence W. Eichler, a research scientist, and Charles W. Boylen, associate director of the institute, the report outlines the results of a series of water quality tests designed to assess the bacterial coliform and zooplankton levels in the lake throughout 2011.
“Bacteria-wise, all the beaches around the lake checked out just fine for swimming and bathing, as did all the marinas,” said Eichler.
According to the report, coliform levels in the lake, both total coliform (TC) and fecal coliform (FC) are comparatively low and “bacterial water quality is more than adequate for all intended uses.”
As in previous tests, only samples taken from the Kennyetto Creek at its intersection with Route 30 in Vail Mills exceeded single sample standards set by the state Department of Health, as well as the five sample average limits.
The report cites ratios of fecal coliform bacteria to fecal streptococcus bacteria as indications that the source of bacteria levels is likely something other than human waste.
“The Kennyetto Creek drainage includes the village of Broadalbin, as well as livestock pastures, which may account for elevated levels of coliform bacteria,” it reads.
Testing of the lake water began in 2007, when the Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Council contracted with the institute to test the water quality of the lake at various public bathing and recreational facilities.
Northampton Town Supervisor Linda Kemper, a member of the GSLAC, said the group will likely continue to fund further studies in the hopes that the source of the contamination in and around Kennyetto Creek can be identified and, eventually, remediated.
“I think it’s something we will most likely continue to fund because that’s information the public needs to hear,” said Kemper. “Basically, we’re very pleased with the report. It’s identified problem areas. Now, we’re trying to get further studies to dig a little.
“We’re actually funding a little more this year to try to identify where the actual bacteria is coming from,” she added.
Kemper said overall, the council is pleased with the results of this year’s report.
“Our levels have really been really good, as far as any bacteria,” she said. “We’re actually one of the cleanest lakes around in the entire Adirondacks, and the report says that.”
Kemper said she hopes the report will put an end to rumors that the lake’s water quality has been questionable, which, she said, was the original intent of the study. “It really has put a lot of people’s concerns to rest,” she said.
The Great Sacandaga Lake Coliform Monitoring Program collected 42 water samples from 36 sample points throughout the lake basin, approximately 12 to 15 shoreline locations during each monthly sampling cycle.
Sampling efforts primarily centered on locations that are popular with swimmers and recreational users of the lake, as well as marinas and “locations that are likely to produce bacterial contamination, such as runoff sites or agricultural areas.”
According to the report, sampling sites were chosen through a cooperative effort that included input from the Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Council, the Great Sacandaga Lake Association, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, towns and villages surrounding the lake and other regulating agencies and citizens groups.
“Results from the current study indicate that coliform bacterial levels in Great Sacandaga Lake are low, and bacterial water quality is more than adequate for all intended use,” the report says.
The ongoing effort to preserve the pristine waters of the Great Sacandaga Lake also includes the close monitoring of an invasive water species known as the spiny waterflea, which was first reported as being present in GSL waters, in the fall of 2008.
The small crustacean invaded the waters of New York’s great lakes in the mid 1980s, and it now competes with native zooplankton for available resources.
The native zooplankton that are now competing with the spiny waterflea for nourishment, represent the base of numerous food webs, specifically those that affect trout, perch and walleye pike.
“While the effect the spiny waterflea are having on the ecosystems of the Great Lakes region is uncertain,” the report says. “These crustaceans compete directly with young perch and other small fish for food, such as native zooplankton.”
The fear is that the continued reproduction of the spiny waterflea in the GSL will produce problems similar to those now occurring in the Great Lakes, diminishing what was once an abundant supply of native zooplankton and upsetting the delicate ecosystem within which the native species of the GSL have continually thrived.
“The idea is that this spiny waterflea might affect the food chain at the lower levels and that will affect the fish that we want to catch,” said Eichler.
Though members of the team conducting the study were pleased that test results have shown no indication that spiny waterflea populations have exploded in the recent years, as they did in the Great Lakes, they remain concerned that they are having a noticeable effect on the native zooplankton.
Eichler said the water temperature and oxygen levels in the Great Sacandaga Lake are likely playing a role in controlling their populations.
Just their presence, however, may be the cause of a recent finding that indigenous zooplankton are getting smaller in size.
That, said Kemper, could prove troublesome for the lake region’s reputation as a popular and productive fishing destination.
“If the food supply dwindles, then all the stocking that we do is not going to make a difference,” said Kemper. “If you can’t get fish, then who’s going to come here to fish?”
According to the institute’s 2009 report, the spiny waterflea was encountered throughout the GSL.
In most locations, they were present in small numbers, with the area around the Conklingville Dam producing the fewest.
In 2011, the spiny waterflea was found in the main lake, but not in the inlet and outlet areas, and the majority of the specimens were found in the lake’s deeper waters.
The latest round of testing showed a substantial decline in native zooplankton abundance, biomass and average size in 2009 and 2011, however, when compared to the results from 2003 and 2004.
“While the sample size is very limited to reach conclusions, the decline in abundance, biomass and average size of native zooplankton may be attributed to the invasion of Great Sacandaga Lake by the spiny waterflea, a species known to prey on other zooplankton,” the report says. “Perhaps the most encouraging result of the zooplankton survey was the extremely limited numbers of Spiny waterflea reported at the Conklingville Dam or outlet site.”
Eichler said the studies have not yet identified the source of the spiny waterflea’s migration into the waters of the Great Sacandaga Lake, nor did he believe there were any permanent solutions to the problem.
“We don’t know a lot about this organism because it hasn’t been here before,” Eichler said. “It’s most likely that it hitchhiked a ride on a boat.
“We don’t have a treatment for them right now. There are folks working on a variety different methods to treat them, but that’s really experimental. They don’t have anything in the tool box right at the moment,” he said.
Eichler did say there were several precautions visitors to lake could take that would prevent future spread of the species.
Eichler advised fishermen not to use the same tackle in two different bodies of water. Similarly, boaters are asked to either thoroughly wash their boats, or allow them to dry for at least a day before traveling from lake to lake. Eichler also asked boaters to be sure to drain any standing water that may be left in a boat before moving from one lake to another.