LAKE GEORGE -- Two regional banks will be putting a total of $2.5 million into no-interest or low-interest loans to help homeowners and businesses around Lake George upgrade private septic systems that may be polluting the lake.
Adirondack Trust Co. of Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls National Bank on Wednesday announced the program, coordinated through the Fund for Lake George, a non-profit that is dedicated to preserving the environmental quality of the lake, which is at the heart of the regional tourism economy.
There are about 6,000 private septic systems around the lake, and those that are failing are discharging nutrients -- mainly phosphorous and nitrogen -- into the lake, which could feed the growth of algae that could eventually cloud the lake's famously clear waters.
The Fund for Lake George and the Lake George Waterkeeper estimate that about one-third of the septic systems around the lake are failing or past their life expectancy, and another one-third are in an unknown condition, with only one-third definitely working properly.
"Aging and faulty septic systems are a seminal issue facing our Lake George," said Jeff Killeen, who is chairman of the Fund for Lake George board and a lakefront homeowner on Diamond Point.
The fund also announced the launch of a new website, SafeSepticSystems.org, which provides an online guide to helping property owners understand their septic systems, and whether they may be causing harm to the lake.
"The increased nutrients pose a risk for the development of harmful algal blooms like those that have devastated lake ecologies and economies across New York state and across the country," said Eric Siy, the fund's executive director.
Fund officials said a smaller-scale septic system upgrade effort around Dunham's Bay has shown positive results, after 20 aging or failing systems were replaced over the last five years.
Replacing a septic system can cost anywhere from $17,000 to $30,000, depending on the system specifications, size requirements and site conditions, according to the fund. Septic systems are typically expected to last 30 to 40 years.
Adirondack Trust has pledged up to $1 million to be used to give no-interest loans to qualifying property owners in the Southern Basin, while Glens Falls Trust Co. has set aside $1.5 million for low-interest loans to qualifying property owners throughout the Lake George Basin. Both banks are ready to start taking loan applications immediately.
"Lake George is a vital part of our local economy and we want to help residents maintain or update their systems to be environmentally sound and protect the lake," said Marc Yrsha, senior vice-president of the Glens Falls bank.
"We believe this is a project that reinforces one of our core beliefs: taking care of our local communities," Adirondack Trust President and CEO Charles V. Wait Jr. said in a prepared statement.
Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said a 30-year study shows the amount of nutrients going into the lake is increasing, as development has increased around the lake -- especially in the Southern Basin. While the village of Lake George and town of Bolton have municipal wastewater treatment plants, other developed areas around the lake rely on septic systems for wastewater disposal.
While more people live in the Southern Basin, Navitsky said the issue of failing septic systems and associated growth of algae is also visible in the Northern Basin. "The problem is visible up there, it's just a smaller number," he said.
"Unfortunately, septic systems can be a classic example of 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Navitsky said. "Many people simply don't think about their system until it causes a problem for their home. Overlooked is what's happening underground and how it might be impacting the lake and its tributaries."
The village of Lake George is in the process of building a new $24 million wastewater treatment plant to replace an aging plant that isn't adequately filtering out the kind of nutrients that could harm the lake.