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Michael Martin tests the local waters

August 18, 2010
By YVONA?FAST, Special to the Enterprise

Michael Martin is a limnologist. He explains, "It is the freshwater equivalent of an oceanographer. I'm a water quality doctor, studying lakes, ponds and rivers."

In this capacity, Michael goes to the many local lakes and ponds, testing water quality.

"I look at the watershed - the land surrounding the lake - and figure out if there is a problem," he said. "If there is a problem, I find out what is causing it. If there aren't any problems, I monitor lakes to catch early warning signs and develop management plans to preserve, protect or restore good water quality.

Article Photos

Michael Martin
(Photo β€” Yvona Fast)

"Anywhere where people are near water, they need to control how the water runs off the ground. When water runs fast, it erodes land and washes nutrients (like phosphorus and nitrogen) from the soil into the water body. Slowing down how fast the water runs off the land can make a big impact on water quality. A barrier of native vegetation along the shore can help. So can maintaining good septic systems - a typical septic system lasts between 15 and 20 years."

Michael moved to the Tri-Lakes from Pennsylvania in 1992 as the founder of the Adirondack Aquatic Institute. The institute's areas of research and concern include combating invasive species, monitoring water quality, fisheries and forest management and recreational use.

"Charlie Richie and I established the institute at Paul Smiths in September of 1992," he said. "My son was born during the blizzard of 1993. We had not moved here yet and were staying in one of the cabins in Saranac Inn."

Today, he lives with his wife Marlene and their two children in Harrietstown. Marlene works from home as vice president for F.X. Browne Inc. an environmental consulting firm in Lansdale Pa., doing large- scale planning for counties and cities.

For example, when a new school or a new subdivision is to be built, Marlene might help to design the water treatment plant.

Their son is now in high school and their daughter in college. As an environmental studies major at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse (SUNY ESF), she's following in her parents' footsteps.

When the kids were younger, Michael was very active in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Now he enjoys watching them compete in sports - Mathew in soccer and lacrosse and Emily in cross-country running.

"She was team captain her senior year at Saranac Lake, and she's now one of the top runners on the team at SUNY ESF," Michael said.

The Institute Michael founded helps to educate both Paul Smith's College students and area residents about the relationship between people and the environment.

"People need to understand what it is that they do that caused problems," Michael said. "For example, we studied three lakes in Westchester County. There, the pollution was coming from pet waste - lawns that went down to the lake. Everything on the lawn - dog waste and fertilizer - ended up in the water, causing algae growth. It's important to make sure it doesn't end in the water. Maintaining a strip of natural vegetation along the shore can keep pollutants from flowing down the driveway or lawn and ending up in the water.

"Another major issue today is invasive species. It is a big problem across the U.S. and the world. It is a big issue here because most of our lakes are still free from invasives - and we want to keep them that way. Less than 100 of the Adirondack's 3,000 lakes have milfoil and other invasive species. We're one of the last places - the last stronghold of unimpacted lakes.

"When invasive plants or animals enter a lake, they completely alter the ecosystem. A typical lake has 25 to 30 different plant species. Aquatic animals and shore animals depend on these plants for habitat and food. When milfoil moves in, it wipes out all the other plants. All the habitat niches are gone. Only those organisms that can live in a bed of milfoil survive. Insects, fish, other wildlife are impacted. It chokes the lake so you can't paddle through it."

Michael has been doing this type of work since 1984. His first job was as an environmental biologist for the state of New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services (he lived in New Hampshire from the age of 11).

"In 9 to 10 years, I worked on over 100 different lakes and ponds in that state," he said.

In addition to his work and family, Michael has many hobbies. His biggest passion is music.

"I could live without books and gadgets, but if I were stranded on a desert island, I'd be building instruments out of coconut shells and palm fronds," he said. "I volunteer as music minister for the praise service at the First United Methodist Church in Saranac Lake. I'm a singer/songwriter and perform by myself and with the band The Whompers. I will be a featured solo performer at the Rockin' for Rett 2 Benefit Concert in Honor of Emma Dalton on Oct. 2 at Tucker's Farm in Gabriels ( I also perform regularly at the Wednesday community dinners at the United Methodist Church."

His other hobbies include photography (, canoeing, kayaking and cooking. He loves gadgets and can fix anything electronic or computer related.

Michael is also a voracious reader.

"I read all sorts of genres, but science fiction is my favorite," he said. "I also write music, songs, poetry, short stories and non-fiction. Currently, I'm working on several books, including a natural history/sciences book about summer in the Adirondacks."

He has also authored more than 50 publications and reports on lake and watershed management, lake restoration and the effects of acid precipitation.

Since 2001, he has run his own business, based here in the Tri-Lakes.

"In my business, I work for lake associations (like the Mount Arab Preserve Association), municipalities, counties and state agencies," he explains. "Most of the work is in the northeast, between New Hampshire and Virginia. For example, I helped rewrite zoning and planning ordinances for the town of Massena, and made a zoning map used for watershed management plans for the town of Santa Clara.

He has traveled a lot, too.

"I did some work in Indiana," he said. "Although it's a flat plain, it's very similar to our area: glaciated, with a lot of deep, glacial lakes. However, most of the lakes are very polluted from farmland runoff. After I did a study of 10 lakes there, I became the expert."

Michael's business has also taken him to the west coast. "I worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power - the largest municipal water department in the world," he said. "It's a pretty big client for a one-person firm. They needed to control algae. LA gets their water from the mountains 400 miles to the east. The water first travels through a channel-lined stream, open to the hot California sun. I went there in early December and drove up to Mono Lake, where the water originates. It was a three-day trip through the Owens River Valley, the Owens Lake dry bed and the Mojave Desert."

Recently, Michael spent time assessing the environmental impact of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While there, he assisted in the rescue of oiled birds, evaluated the placement of booms, and identified areas in need of protection by booms.

With so many lakes in our area, we need people like Michael to help us protect this important natural resource. Water quality, lake ecosystems and lake and river recreation are vitally important to our region.



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