DAILY GAZETTE
Schenectady, NY
April 9, 2006

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE

Waste discharge into lake allowed under state permit system

BY JOE MAHER, Gazette Reporter

When officials started reviewing the regulations concerning access to the Great Sacandaga Lake and came across one that states no one shall release sewage or waste into the lake without state approval it raised some questions.

Such as: Who has permission? And have there been any violations of permit parameters?

A Freedom of Information Law request filed by The Sunday Gazette with the state Department of Environmental Conservation shows that there are about a dozen entities with discharge permits in the watershed.

They include both private businesses and municipal sewage treatment plants in Northampton, Broadalbin and Mayfield.

ONE VIOLATION

Enforcement records from recent years were also requested and they revealed that there has only been one incident where an operator was charged with violating the terms of the discharge permit.

According to the DEC, CVB Charter Corp., doing business as Sunset Bay Campground in Mayfield, failed to conduct daily monitoring tests as required for acidity, temperature, solids and chlorine from Jan. 1, 2001 to Oct. 2003.

Also, according to the consent order that settled the case, Sunset Bay failed to conduct semi-annual tests for other parameters, including fecal coliform and phosphorus.

The consent order said that the effluent from the campground in July 2003 contained pollutants at levels far exceeding allowable limits.

BOD, or biological oxygen demand, which basically measures the strength of the effluent, was at 200 milligrams per liter, way over the approved threshold of 30 milligrams.

TSS, or total suspended solids, stood at 70 milligrams per liter while the limit is 30.

Sunset Bay located next to the Mayfield Town Beach on Paradise Point was fined $10,000 and ordered to meet the limits. All but $1,000 of the fine was suspended, according to the 2004 consent order.

FLOOD CONTROL LAKE

The Great Sacandaga Lake is a manmade reservoir built in 1929 for flood control in spring and low-flow augmentation of the Hudson Valley in dry months. Since then the lake has evolved into a popular recreation destination.

It's managed by the Hudson River Black River Regulating District and is not used as a source of drinking water.

The district's chief engineer, Robert Foltan, said Tuesday that water quality is not the agency's purview and it does no such testing.

"It doesn't at all directly relate to our objective to provide flood protection or augmentation," he said.

Lake-area activist Peter Van Avery, co-founder of the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee, a group that advocates for various lake issues, said he couldn't believe there were a dozen permits allowing discharges into the water held by various entities.

"It is appalling news that treated waste water is being piped into Great Sacandaga Lake," he said in a recent e-mail.

"It would be bad enough if there was just one site where this was happening but to learn that there are a dozen or so such sites is simply inconceivable.

"Lake property owners, many of whom paid a small fortune for their homes, and tourists will be shocked to discover that they and their kids and grandkids have been swimming in -- and eating fish from -- a lake that may not be as pristine as they thought," he said.

Van Avery said the state should be aggressive in policing the permit-holders.

CALLS FOR TESTING

He said water-quality tests should be run at the height of the summer season when the populations of lake-area towns and villages are quadrupled or quintupled by seasonal property owners and tourists, which stresses the capacity of local sewage-treatment facilities.

"In the months ahead, the Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee will set up its own water quality task force to run periodic tests on Great Sacandaga's waters. The future of this beautiful lake demands no less," Van Avery said.

Back in January when the regulating district held its first regulation-review session, Van Avery said the rule that states "there shall be no discharge of sewage or wastes into the reservoir without a written permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation" should be changed to "there shall be no discharge of sewage or wastes into the reservoir."

One of the discharge permit holders, meanwhile, the town of Northampton, plans to replace its aging waste water treatment system in the hamlet of Sacandaga Park.

The system isn't leaking per se, but ground water is infiltrating the system and pushing it beyond capacity, town officials said.

Northampton has hired CT Male Associates to study the problem.

While repairs have been made over the years, system operator Ken Cramer said that most of the remaining lines are beyond the town's ability to repair.

The town has approved a modest increase in sewer fees and while an estimate of the cost of the work has not yet been prepared Supervisor Linda Kemper said the town will likely have to borrow for the project.

The 100-year-old sanitary system serves about 100 homes in the hamlet. The sanitary systems in Mayfield and Broadalbin are relatively new, while people outside the villages rely on septic systems.

DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said the agency is aware of problems and has been monitoring the infiltration of ground water into the Sacandaga Park sewer system.

She said DEC is not citing the town for violations because the town is working with the state as it prepares to perform an investigation to further identify the problems and repair or replace the system.

 

THE FOLLOWING STORY WAS RUN AS A SIDEBAR:

 

Sacandaga lacks Lake George's 'special' rating

BY JOE MAHER, Gazette Reporter

There are a lot of similarities between the Great Sacandaga Lake and Lake George.

Both are vast bodies of fresh water that attract sailors and power boaters, fishermen and tourists to restaurants, shops and special attractions.

But the Lake George area is more developed and similarities are also lacking when assessing water quality.

Great Sacandaga Lake is classified by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as a class B body of water; Lake George is classified as class AAspecial.

In layman's terms, that means you could drink, cook and prepare food with water taken directly from Lake George.

That is not the case with the Great Sacandaga Lake, although it's not so bad that you can't fish, swim, ski or wade in it, according to DEC guidelines.

Because of Lake George's designation, no direct discharges of any kind are allowed into the lake, while there are numerous permits in place for municipalities and businesses to discharge into the Great Sacandaga Lake.

POLLUTION WORRIES

Then there's another type of discharge that concerns environmentalists. Engineers call it nonpoint source pollution and both lakes are subjected to it.

Non-point sources can include a failing septic system, fertilizer in runoff or an accidental fuel spill.

"That is something that the state is working on with communities, to track non-point source pollution because it is a concern," DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said.

For example, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets just announced a program designed to help reduce pollution from farmland, Wren said.

Local groups are stepping up as well.

David Decker, an engineer with the Lake George Conference, a consortium of local government, state government and non-profit agencies, is working to establish septic maintenance districts.

Such special districts, much like a lighting or fire-protection district, would impose a tax to cover the cost of providing the service.

In this case that would entail annual septic tank inspections, testing and pumpouts, according to Decker.

"We know that septic systems are designed with a finite life. They will fail if not properly maintained," he said.

The conference also plans to try to establish a reserve fund, which could be tapped, for example, to help pay for the consolidation of numerous septic systems into a central system, Decker said.

The conference is starting on its first district this spring.

Grant funds from the Environmental Protection Fund will be used to pay for the preparation of a map plan and report in Queensbury and for a feasibility study in Fort Ann, he said.

SEPTIC DISTRICT

So, should such a plan be implemented around the Great Sacandaga Lake?

"It certainly wouldn't hurt," Decker said. "It's a way to manage these systems. . . . It's a big bowl, everything runs downhill, so at some time everything you put into the septic system is going to show up in the lake."

John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said people with failing systems tend to pump them out rather than replace them for economic reasons.

That, in turn, leads to raw sewage getting into and onto the ground, with rain washing it into the lake.

Sheehan said the council has been lobbying the state Legislature to enact a law that requires a septic system inspection at the time of sale when a buyer is prepared to take on the cost if replacement or repairs are needed.

In lieu of that a septic maintenance district is "a great idea," Sheehan said. "It makes absolutely perfect sense to do something like that."