Water testing may end soon

Lack of funding could shutter Ad’k Lake Survey Corp. at end of year

Jed Dukette, left, and Rep. Elise Stefanik look over data at the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation’s lab behind the state Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Ray Brook.
(Photo provided by ALSC)

Jed Dukette, left, and Rep. Elise Stefanik look over data at the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation’s lab behind the state Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Ray Brook. (Photo provided by ALSC)

RAY BROOK — The long-running field operations of the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation are likely to cease at the end of the year due to a lack of funding.

Beginning in the 1980s, ALSC began collecting water quality samples from around the Adirondack Park. Since then, it has conducted what is likely the largest, most comprehensive inventory of water quality data the Adirondacks has seen.

However, a lack of funding, combined with concerns about the Trump administration, means the corporation’s eight full-time field staff members are likely to be out of work as of Dec. 31.

Willie Janeway, interim president of the ALSC board, said the organization should be proud of its work.

“The Survey Corporation has had a great run collecting data that has guided policy and legislation at the state and federal level,” Janeway said on Tuesday. “It became the very foundation of successful reductions in acid rain.

“There has been an effort to reprogram most of the money away from the acid rain work that the survey corporation has done for decades and put that into climate change.

“But as of this point, there is no funding for any of those staff to do any of this work after December 31st.”

ALSC is a private corporation that operates on a combination of state and federal funding. It is housed in the state Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters in Ray Brook, but its employees do not work for the state. Janeway said most of ALSC’s funding came from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, with another $250,000 coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. DEC provides in-kind funding, such as office space and use of vehicles.

Janeway said the shift to studying climate change was decided over the course of several years, before Donald Trump was elected president last November.

“Resources were being cut by tens of millions at NYSERDA, and it seemed like a safe bet to pull back on this because it had been so successful,” he said.

As of now, though, there’s no public funding committed for any full-time staff next year, and ALSC doesn’t know whether it could get funds for part-timers to do a reduced level of sampling.

Janeway said one of ALSC’s biggest contributions is the record of samples that stretches back about 30 years. If funding isn’t secured by the end of the year, it could create a break in the statistical record that may impact science and regulations for years to come.

That record, he said, “is what researchers have used, policy makers have used and lawmakers have used to write things like the Clean Air Act amendments, which have brought back the trout and brought back the loons.”

From 1984 to 1987, 1,469 lakes were surveyed, which is close to half of those inside the Blue Line. Janeway said nothing before or since has even come close to that effort.

“And then after that, a smaller subset was assembled to try and be representative,” he said. By 1992, ALSC was regularly sampling about 52 lakes.

Janeway said the loss of the monthly sampling raises concerns now that the Trump administration has expressed a disdain for environmental issues.

“We have seen the Trump administration no longer require power plants in the Ohio Valley to run pollution control equipment,” Janeway said. “We have seen announcements made of intent to provide huge subsidies to coal. If that pollution-control equipment were running [and] there weren’t new subsidies on coal, between the pollution-control equipment and the low price of natural gas … we wouldn’t be as worried about backsliding.”

One impetus for the formation of the ALSC was the damage acid rain did to Adirondack waterbodies. Over the last two-and-a-half decades, the amount of air pollution coming from the Midwest into the Adirondacks has dropped off. This year, however, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has faced lawsuits over its alleged lack of enforcement of regulations.

“What we’re really worried about, the board of the survey corp., is that we have a statistician saying, ‘Don’t worry, the reduced sampling still has statistical significance,'” Janeway said. “But I’ll bet you my lunch that the lawyer for the power plants in the Ohio Valley will have a statistician that will say, ‘Well, you actually changed your monitoring protocol at that same time, so that’s not valid data, so throw out the lawsuit.'”

Janeway rattled off a list of Republicans and Democrats who have rallied behind the issue. He said that protecting the Adirondacks from air pollution has proven to be a bipartisan issue.

In addition to lake sampling, ALSC monitors water quality in streams and collects cloud samples at the summit of Whiteface Mountain.

NYSERDA still has the money ALSC has used in the past, but Janeway said it is unclear if the authority will use the funds for climate change or water quality studies.

“The board is concerned that the funding for the acid rain monitoring is being cut back without an equal replacement of funding for other lake monitoring,” he said. “And it’s not just acid rain; there has been phenomenal recovery of trout in the lakes.

“We would really like to continue the level of monitoring across all these lakes; we really would like to go back and redo the almost 1,500-lake survey to allow the DEC [state Department of Environmental Conservation] — now that lakes are recovering — to know which lakes are now, from a chemistry perspective, ready to be restocked with native trout.”

Janeway said it would be foolish for the state to try to move native Adirondack brook trout strains to new lakes without knowing if the lake’s chemistry can support them.

“The survey corp. board is hoping the state will continue to fund a similar or higher level of lake monitoring, and we feel the survey corp. expertise would be perfect for doing that work and maybe expand across the park,” he said.

Janeway said NYSERDA has requested proposals for limited seasonal sampling, and Janeway said ALSC will submit a bid to try and get that funding, but it would be far less than its current level of funding.

“If that is secured, that would allow a couple of seasonal staff on a part-time basis to do some monitoring,” he said, adding that the stream, fish, cloud and soil samples ALSC collects are also important.

“We’re hoping funding can be secured for some of those other pieces as well,” Janeway said. “But if not, the survey corporation may shut down.”

In addition to the loss of jobs, Janeway lamented the loss of talented staff whose work is often used in scientific publications and has to stand up to legal review.

“One of the big concerns we have is those aren’t just anyone going out and dipping a water sample into a lake,” he said. “There’s a lot more to it than that. They’re experts; they’re good at this. We’re really worried that you shut things down and then someone finds funding — those people are going to need to find jobs, and will they be available?”

Janeway said the pending closure isn’t solely because of Trump but a symptom of a general anti-fact trend.

“It’s a scary trend that we are seeing politically around this country,” he said. “And what is happening to the survey corporation is a potential casualty of that trend.

“But the actual funding, as of January 1st, is insufficient for the survey corp. to be able to keep doing its work.”

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