LAKE GEORGE -- Six years into the mandatory boat inspection system at Lake George, inspectors continue to find boats contaminated with aquatic invasive species arriving at the lake, but no new invasive species have arrived.
The Lake George Park Commission inspectors examined more than 33,000 boats for aquatic invasive species in 2019, setting a new record for the 6-year-old program, which was set up because boats are believed to be the primary way invasive species arrive at the lake.
"Lake George still has the relatively enviable position of having only five invasive species in its crystal clear waters, and with public support and community partnerships, we endeavor to keep it that way for generations to come," concluded the commission's annual report released Friday.
The report found that 16 percent of arriving boats didn't meet the "cleaned, drained and dry" standard for ensuring they carry no aquatic invasives -- a percentage that has remained fairly constant over the years. Some 1,438 had to be decontaminated with high-pressure hot water sprayed on them. It was the lowest total since the inspection program began in 2014. There is no cost to boaters.
The total number of boats examined in 2019 -- 33,146 -- is a combination of boats arriving at the lake for the first time in the season, boats exiting the lake, and boats that had a seal indicating they had passed a previous inspection, so did not need to be inspected again.
"It was indeed a busy boating summer on Lake George, with total inspection activity peaking at 2,598 boater contacts in a single week (June 29-July 5)," the report states.
The new inspection and decontamination station at the Northway Exit 18 Adirondack Welcome Center rest area did not significantly reduce the number of inspections done at the launch sites, as some people had hoped.
"Many of the boaters mentioned to LGPC inspection staff that they saw the signs for the Northway site but didn't understand that the site was a boat inspection station, because the signs read 'Boat Wash.'" the report states. "The commission is optimistic that has time passes more boaters will become familiar with the Adirondack Welcome Center site and all it has to offer."
The inspection program, which uses six regional stations at boat launches around the lake, runs from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year. The Million Dollar Beach boat launch in Lake George is the busiest spot, followed by Norowal Marina in Bolton Landing.
The program cost about $575,000 last year, most of it to pay salaries for seasonal staff. The program is funded by the state Environmental Protection Fund, Warren County, and nine communities around the lake. The lake is one of the most popular recreational-use lakes in the eastern United States, and the heart of a $2 billion regional tourism economy.
The mandatory inspection system around the lake is something some environmental advocates would like to see reproduced across the Adirondacks, where there is widespread concern about protecting popular lakes.
The Lake George Association, which represents property owners and other interests around the lake, paid $30,000 toward the inspection program's cost in 2019. It's executive director said the fact that some boats still arrive with contamination shows the need for more to be done.
“Lake George is fortunate to have a responsible, proactive state agency enforcing laws to protect our water quality,” said Walt Lender, the LGA's executive director. “But boats with invasives are still coming to Lake George. And that is a concern.”
The Lake George Association pays to protect Lake George boat launches on Gull Bay in Putnam and at the Hague town boat launch, using a $78,575 state grant. Those municipal launches are not staffed by the park commission's program.
“More than 1,400 boats a season need to be decontaminated, which means the message about the dangers of invasive species is not reaching all boaters," Lender said. "As advocates and people who care about the Lake, we all need to continue our vigilance with regard to the introduction of invasive species, and continue working with boaters and boating organizations to make them aware of the dangers of transporting invasive species.”
Lake George currently holds invasive species: Eurasian watermilfoil, curly pondleaf, Zebra mussels, Asian clams and spiny waterflea. The state commission has spent millions of dollars trying to manage or eradicate them in recent years.