Ausable River Association merges with lake survey nonprofit

The governing boards of the Ausable River Association and the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation are planning to merge by next year.

The Ausable River Association board in February unanimously approved a timeline for the merger, proposed by ALSC, which aims to make ALSC a program of the Ausable River Association by 2023.

“I think … the merger will allow us to be both better partners in what we hope is a cooperative effort going forward to provide the best science that we can to address the concerns of climate change, and its effects on our water and air for the benefit of agencies, for the benefit of the public and for the benefit of problem solving in park,” Ausable River Association Executive Director Kelley Tucker said.

ALSC was created in 1983 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Empire State Electric Research Corporation to perform long-term monitoring of the chemical and biological states of Adirondack lakes. ALSC has monitored changes in 52 of the park’s lakes since 1992, and ALSC’s study of chemical acidification in Adirondack lakes informed the 1990 federal Clean Air Act amendments that initiated efforts to curb acid rains in the park.

The Ausable River Association would be bringing ALSC on as an independent program. The association’s primary focus is the Ausable watershed and neighboring watersheds, and Tucker said ALSC could expand the association’s potential.

The organizations are also considering merging their staff. Tucker said there isn’t necessarily a separation of the program merger and staff merger — both are likely to happen, but discussions are still underway. ALSC has one full-time staffer, Phil Synder, and Tucker said the Ausable River Association would make sure he has a place there if the merger is approved.

“It’s all looking very positive at this point,” Tucker said.

Both boards have to confirm the merger one more time before it’s finalized. Tucker expects that confirmation to happen sometime this year.

Joining forces

Tucker said there isn’t a rush on the merger right now because ALSC’s latest package of funding through NYSERDA and the DEC runs through the end of the year, though the end of the contract is what encouraged ALSC to look for other partnerships. ALSC has received funding through a series of contracts with its founders, according to Tucker. After this year’s funding runs out, ALSC would have to put out a new bid for a contract with the state agencies.

She said ALSC has received an array of federal and state funding in the past. Nonprofits like ALSC often have to fish for funding from whatever grants are available, Tucker said, and the association would be “providing a home” for ALSC to keep the organization alive.

Tucker anticipates that NYSERDA and DEC will issue a new contract to ALSC for long-term lake monitoring, but it’s a competitive process. Right now, ALSC is focusing on what they’re contracted to do this year: long-term lake monitoring and cloud monitoring on Whiteface Mountain.

“In the end, the Ausable River Association is going to be an administrative and coordinating home for the good science ALSC needs, and that’s exciting,” Tucker said. “That brings us additional skills and tools and abilities to solve problems in our community.”

Tucker said that there’s been a trickle-down effect created by a lack of funding for scientific research. Staffing has dwindled because projects have dwindled because science and funding for water quality in the park, and nationwide, has dwindled. She said that having additional resources and more “smart people in a lab” would probably help ALSC and the Ausable River Association be more competitive in funding opportunities, but that’s not why they’re doing it. The multi-faceted effects of climate change are calling for equally robust research efforts to help reduce those effects, and this merger could improve the two nonprofits’ impacts in the field.

The more resources, the better, according to Tucker.

It’s not uncommon for environmental nonprofits in the park to merge and pool resources. The Adirondack Land Trust and Lake Placid Land Conservancy also announced a merger last year for similar reasons.

Tucker said the ALSC merger wouldn’t completely get rid of competition between the nonprofits, but they’re entering a period of recognition that cooperation, shared resources and shared work is more efficient and effective than working alone.

ALSC already works with organizations like the U.S. Geological Survey and academic partners like Cornell University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, SUNY schools, Syracuse University and Paul Smith’s College. The AsRA also partners with other nonprofits, like the Adirondack Watershed Institute, to study water quality and works with Adirondack communities to protect streams and lakes. The association and ALSC recently helped develop a Survey of Climate change and Adirondack Lake Ecosystems, or SCALE, to protect Adirondack lakes. Tucker said that through SCALE, the association and other environmental nonprofits are voicing the importance and value of the science that helps monitor water and air quality in New York and beyond.

The potential merger could involve a makeover to ALSC’s science lab in Ray Brook. Tucker said ALSC has a smaller lab that’s been set up to deal with specific projects the corporation has won funding for. Tucker said the Ausable River Association is interested in outfitting the lab for additional projects, getting additional certifications for the lab and determining what the association and its partners would need from the lab.


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