Saratoga County

Phosphorus levels endanger Ballston Lake

Phosphorus levels in Ballston Lake will likely degrade the water quality unless significant steps ar

Phosphorus levels in Ballston Lake will likely degrade the water quality unless significant steps are taken soon, according to a report delivered at the Ballston Town Board meeting on Thursday.

A significant uptick in phosphorus was noted in 2010 and the trend has continued, and Ballston Lake Improvement Association board member David Pierce said Thursday that the lake is now “super saturated,” meaning it has more phosphorus than it can handle. Elevated levels of phosphorus can lead to excess amounts of algae, which can harm the natural life in a body of water and in some cases become a paralytic to small children and pets. In high concentrations, phosphorus can be toxic to humans.

Pierce added that the lake is a source of drinking water for nearby residents.

Runoff, septic sites eyed

The suspected culprits of the high levels are runoff and septic systems. Pierce said some of the streams that flow into the lake have levels of phosphorus that are above those accepted by the EPA.

As a result, the area was added to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s list of areas that require development restrictions. To reduce the phosphorus, developments must follow a total maximum daily load plan.

Saratoga County Stormwater Management Coordinator Blue Neils said the restrictions could restore the lake. The goal of the plan, he said, “is to try to reel back time.”

sewer system for town?

One solution, which would require a major investment, is a sewer system for the town. Town Board member William Goslin said the town’s informal sewer committee is currently looking at putting in a sewer system and phasing in the costs.

He warned that the town should try to be proactive about the problem before a state or federal regulatory body comes in and requires action.

“This is going to be one of the major issues our town is going to have to deal with in the immediate future,” Goslin said.

Town Supervisor Patti Southworth said the town has always known that its lack of sewers had a negative impact on the lake, but the development of a sewer system had never been deemed cost-effective by town residents. She noted that more than three decades ago the town had a chance to develop a mostly subsidized system and passed on the opportunity. A 2005 estimate for a sewer system started at $41 million, she added.

Neils said a sewer system needs to be something the town considers, especially near the lake. He noted that the community around Saratoga Lake created its own sewer system in the 1970s when similar conditions presented themselves — and that solved the problem.

Southworth said further review of the report presented to the town was warranted, as there were still unanswered questions in her mind. One issue she raised was whether residents were still using fertilizers on their land that would help raise phosphorus levels.

Phosphorus can be found in some fertilizers, manure and human waste. Almost all household products no longer contain phosphorus.

Even if the town and property owners begin to deal with the problem, Ballston Lake Improvement Association board member Scott Miller said the problem will still exist for years to come.

Neils said that a major facet of curbing phosphorus growth in the lake is public awareness, which should be led by the town. Part of the town’s campaign should revolve around proper use of septic systems, as many residents in the town don’t use them properly.

“It is all fixable issues,” Neils said. “But they’ve got to make good investments.”

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