Every year, the algae near the shores of Ballston Lake gets thicker, driving residents to rake it out by hand and making swimmers squeamish about jumping in.
The waters of the long, narrow lake are safe, even drinkable, but increasing levels of nitrates and phosphates — which encourage the yellow-green plant life — leave some residents worried about the lake’s long-term health.
“The lake is deteriorating over time,” said Ballston town Councilman William Goslin. “That has been going on for 20 or 30 years.”
Joe Pollard, who lives on the lake on Westside Drive, lobbied Goslin to do something about what might be the biggest threat to the lake — the numerous septic systems all around the lake and throughout its watershed. For the past few months, Pollard, Goslin, Planning Board Chairman Richard Doyle and a handful of other residents have been meeting to start planning for an eventual central sewer system in the most developed part of town, including the hamlet of Burnt Hills and the area east and west of the lake.
Although newer developments east or north of Ballston Lake, such as Chapel Hill, Beacon Hill and Timber Creek Preserve, are connected to the Saratoga County sewer system, older homes and those west of the lake are not, Goslin said. Everyone with a lakefront home has a septic system, Pollard said.
The systems are of various ages and aren’t required to be checked to make sure they’re working properly. Older systems become increasingly likely to fail, he said.
Also, some areas on the north end of the town, near the village of Ballston Spa, have access to a public sewer line but aren’t hooked up, Goslin said.
“What we would have to do is just get those folks connected,” he said.
The committee is fairly informal so far, and its mission is a tall order that likely will take years to achieve.
“The key is just to have a plan as to how we’re going to deal with this in the future,” Goslin said.
Sewer systems are costly for municipalities and often unpopular with residents because they have to pay connection and usage fees. The town proposed a sewer project in 1979 that residents voted down, Pollard said.
“There’s no way we can ask the homeowners to foot the bill for a [sewer] system,” he said.
Committee members plan to seek state funding, and they hope residents will see the need and support the initiative. Waiting until the lake is polluted before taking action would mean the state Department of Conservation could levy fines and order the town to install sewers, not to mention killing fish and limiting recreation on the 3-mile-long lake, Pollard pointed out.
The committee will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. June 17 in Town Hall, and anyone is welcome to take part.
Among the questions the committee will tackle over the next months and years are where sewer lines would connect between the east and west side of the lake and where the west side lines would go — either into the county system or into Glenville’s sewer system.
Another challenge is the concern that the town could become overdeveloped if public sewers are more widely available.
“That really creates an issue with zoning,” Goslin said, adding he would like the town to update its zoning code.
“There’s a lot of pieces to this, and I would say we’re just beginning to discover what’s involved.”
Besides septic systems, runoff from farm fertilizer also affects the lake. The area’s natural geology makes the issue worse because the terrain is predominantly shale, which unlike sandy soil doesn’t filter wastewater and runoff.
Pollard has lived on the lake since 1979 and seen it change in that time. He started noticing algae growth in the early 1990s in front of his house.
“The volume of it just continues to get worse each year,” Pollard said.
Now the algae extends from the shoreline about 15 to 20 feet out into the lake.
“I’ve got grandkids, and I know they refuse to go into the area where we’ve got weeds,” he said.