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Village of Lake Placid considers Mirror Lake research funding

Lake Placid village officials are considering signing a contract with the Ausable River Association that would help the organization continue its biological and water quality monitoring of Mirror Lake.

If authorized by the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees, the service agreement would help the association along in its goal to fully fund its new Ausable Sustainable Salt Initiative.

The Ausable Sustainable Salt Initiative, slated to span at least five years, was created to allow the Ausable River Association to continue regular water quality and biological monitoring of Mirror Lake, to purchase additional monitoring equipment, and enable the organization to create an emergency fund that will provide the group resources it needs to respond to crises that may arise.

The Ausable River Association doesn’t just monitor Mirror Lake; it also regularly samples 30 different streams throughout the watershed. But for now, the ASSI will focus primarily on Mirror Lake, Ausable River Association Executive Director Kelley Tucker said early this year.

“The idea of an Ausable Sustainable Salt Initiative kind of started coalescing around the group in Mirror Lake that was just so interested in moving this forward as an idea for their area,” Tucker said in January. “The Mirror Lake project has become sort of a first attempt to really think more broadly about salt application rates and their impacts, and our ability to understand those, and understand the impacts on our waterways throughout the AuSable.”

Altogether, the association has set a fundraising goal of $600,000 to fund the ASSI over the next five years. The Lake Champlain Basin Program has committed to funding about one-third of the project, and local donors have contributed more than $177,000 toward the initiative so far. That has left about $45,000 still to be raised.

Part of Mirror Lake is bordered by land in village limits, and part by land within the town of North Elba. The association is seeking $10,000 annually for the next three years from the village, and $5,000 per year for the next three years from the town.

“I couldn’t be happier they’re taking the lead on this,” Mayor Craig Randall said, of the Ausable River Association, last Wednesday. “I’ve said it from the first day I took office: Mirror Lake is the crown jewel of Lake Placid. It provides not only a pleasant view, but all kinds of recreation takes place on its surface.”

Randall said the community has “expressed a strong desire to do what we can to protect Mirror Lake,” and he’s backing the proposal.

“I do support it,” he said. “I think the relationship we’re developing with our watershed groups is an important relationship.”

The village’s potential contribution would need to be in the form of a service agreement, not a donation, because municipalities can’t contribute to non-profit organizations for an extended period of time, according to Randall. A resolution regarding the village’s funding of this project was tabled at its last meeting on Monday to allow time for an agreement to be drafted. The Village Board of Trustees would then have to authorize the agreement.

A peer-reviewed study co-authored by former Ausable River Association Science and Stewardship Director Brendan Wiltse and Adirondack Watershed Institute researchers Elizabeth Yerger and Corey Laxson showed that road salt and stormwater runoff has contributed to a discrepancy in water density between different layers of Mirror Lake.

This discrepancy has disrupted the natural spring mixing cycle and created low-oxygen conditions that reduce the habitability of the lake for its lake trout population. The study focused on conditions in Mirror Lake between 2016 and 2017, when researchers observed “an apparent incomplete spring mixing in Mirror Lake.”

Mirror Lake is what’s called a “dimictic lake,” which means that its natural mixing process – when water cycles from its surface to the floor — happens twice per year, once in the spring and again in the fall. This process distributes oxygen to the deepest part of the lake, creating a habitat where lake trout can thrive.

According to the study, the lake trout habitat was “restricted” in 2016 and 2017 by a combination of warm surface water and low-oxygen conditions at the bottom spurred by high chloride concentration. Lake trout need cold, oxygenated water. Low-oxygen conditions at the bottom of Mirror Lake also puts the lake at risk of developing algae blooms.

Mirror Lake did “turn over” this year; in other recent years it did not.

After the lake turned over in the fall, a harmful algal bloom was found on the lake for the first time. It dissipated soon after.

The Ausable River Association has recommended dramatic reductions in road salt use around Mirror Lake for years. Wiltse has said that reducing road salt use in that area could return the lake to turning over regularly. State, village and town officials have taken a number of steps over the years to curb road salt use on Mirror Lake Drive and surrounding areas. An upcoming multi-million-dollar infrastructure overhaul on Main Street is in part designed to mitigate the amount of road salt entering Mirror Lake.

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