Help the FUND and Waterkeeper Win Strong Stream Buffer Regulations! Letters Needed by March 16th.
Stream buffer rules have been delayed for more than 20 years, so now is the time.
We need your help by submitting a public comment demanding strong stream buffer regulations!
New draft regulations to protect streams have finally arrived! We need your help to ensure that these draft rules are strengthened before they are adopted later this spring.
For over 20 years, the official rulebook of the Lake George Park Commission has had a blank page for "Stream Corridor Control" rules. During this time, the overall water quality of Lake George has declined. Since 1988, many have called upon the Park Commission to develop and implement stream buffer rules to protect streams around the lake, but no action was taken, despite a requirement under state law to do so.
The release of these long-awaited draft rules is a major, watershed moment for the Lake George watershed and we need your help to ensure that strong, comprehensive rules are adopted and implemented by the Park Commission.
In January 2009, the Park Commission formally released official new draft regulations for stream buffer protections. The Park Commission has also provided an FAQs document about the stream regulations as well as released a Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement about the new regulations. See a press release with our initial reaction to the release of these draft regulations.
The FUND and Waterkeeper will post more information shortly that details our concerns over these new regulations and provides a list on talking points for public comments.
For background information and to highlight the importance of this issue, the FUND for Lake George and the Lake George Waterkeeper published Clear Choice: The Need for Stream Buffers in the Lake George Watershed at the end of 2008. See a press release about this report.
Call to Action: We Need You to Write a Letter Today; Letters Must be Received by March 16th
The Lake George Park Commision is soliciting public comments on these new draft rules and is holding a public hearing in late January.
Here is a Call to Action developed by the FUND and Waterkeeper to help you draft a letter.
The FUND for Lake George and the Lake George Waterkeeper have long advocated for the creation of stream buffer regulations for the Lake George watershed by the Park Commission. The Park Commission has just released formal draft stream buffer regulations and is taking public comments. We need your help to make sure that the public response to these draft rules is overwhelmingly positive and that all of us who want stronger environmental protections for Lake George submit comments.
A stream buffer is a forested strip of land on both sides of a stream that protects stream habitat and water quality. The Park Commission is proposing to regulate stream buffers 100 feet wide, starting at the top of the stream bank, for all “permanent” streams (those that almost always have flowing water) and “intermittent” streams (those with flowing water 30 days or more a year) within the Lake George Park area (the lake’s watershed). The Park Commission would create an “inner” and “outer” zone of 50 feet widths with various uses allowed or prohibited in each. Permits will be required for expansions of pre-existing uses, structures, buildings, parking lots, and cleared areas, among other activities, within the proposed stream buffer area.
The Park Commission is required by law to implement these regulations, but has delayed implementation since 1988! Local government regulations protecting streams are non-existent or minimal at best. Unfortunately, much has been lost during these years of inaction and the Park Commission's failure has contributed to the declining water quality around the lake. It’s time for the Park Commission to act. Our streams deserve protections, which will help protect the water quality of Lake George for generations to come. Our lake deserves stronger protections and stream buffer regulations will help.
The Importance of Streams to Lake George and of Stream Buffers for Water Quality: Over 1/2 of the water in Lake George comes from streams. The health of streams impacts the water quality of Lake George. Many streams around Lake George have been negatively impacted because they are not protected by a buffer. Once a stream is negatively impacted it’s very difficult and expensive to restore lost or damaged stream habitat. The differences between a healthy and unhealthy stream are significant. A healthy stream has undisturbed forested areas along both sides, is covered by a full tree canopy, is filled with rocks, boulders and fallen trees that provide a wide range of habitats and the stream banks are vegetated with plants and indigenous shrubs. A healthy stream does not receive direct discharges of stormwater, is not channelized, is not exposed to open sun, hard-lined concrete or riprap, or placed in a culvert that disrupts water passage.
Lake George supplies drinking water to thousands. Protected stream buffers are the best methods to protect stream ecology and water quality. A stream buffer is a no-cut zone that ensures that the stream has stable banks, filters pollutants from runoff, provides substantial woody debris, has a closed forested canopy, a wide variety of instream habitat for aquatic organisms, predictable temperature and flow fluctuations, and no direct stormwater discharges — all of which contribute to good water quality.
Stream buffers are important because they protect water quality by absorbing nutrients and sediment before they reach the stream and are subsequently carried into the lake. Regulated stream buffers are widely used all around the U.S. to protect streams and protect downstream water quality. Buffers can range in width for a variety of factors. Most buffers are 100 feet because that is the easiest to enforce and there is scientific consensus about effectiveness. Buffers are the most common form of stream protection regulation because they are efficient, cost effective, well defined and easy to enforce.
Talking Points: The draft regulations issued by the Lake George Park Commission are a good first step, but must be improved. The FUND and Waterkeeper call upon supporters to help us secure the strongest protections possible. Below are talking points to help draft letters and prepare for public comments.
Express support for the proposed stream buffers, but state that they must be expanded. Corridor widths should be expanded from 100 feet to 150 feet on each side of the stream. Express support for the proposed inner “riparian” (50 feet) and “outer” (50 feet) zones, but call for expansion of both. Wider buffers provide stronger water quality protections.
Call for a “no-cut” zone for the inner “riparian zone” of the buffer that contains the stream area.
New stream buffer regulations must be administered by the Park Commission and not delegated to local governments. The FUND and Waterkeeper monitor the regulation of development by local governments around the lake and find the process and result weak, inconsistent, and unsatisfactory. Stream buffer regulations are too important to the lake's future to be delegated to local governments. There needs to be a uniform approach in application, review and enforcement. This will only happen with centralized administration by the Park Commission.
The Park Commission proposes to regulate all “permanent” and “intermittent” streams. The Park Commission should add definitions of both to the regulations and provide an inventory to the public that locates all “permanent” and “intermittent” streams.
The buffer width should increase 2 feet in width for each percent of slope greater than 10 percent.
Definition of a “tree” should be 3 inches DBH (diameter at breast height), as is found in state law, not 6 inches DBH as proposed. Under the Park Commission proposals all trees or shrubs under 6 inches DBH could be removed without consequence.
Timber harvesting should be prohibited within 75 feet of the stream within the “inner zone.” Timber harvesting should be a regulated activity by the Park Commission within the “outer zone.”
There should be no clearing of downed trees within the inner zone. Downed trees in the stream channel are important for fish and other wildlife habitat, unless a threat to humans or property.The LGPC should develop a new section of the stream regulations for “Restoration,” which should enumerate a process for stream corridor restoration between the Park Commission and a private landowner, resulting in a restoration plan, for all portions of streams that contain pre-existing uses within the stream buffer area.
Park Commission has wide authority to enact these rules and is required by law to enact these rules. The Park Commission has responsibility for the protection of streams. The Park Commission is long overdue to implementing stream buffer regulations. Much has been lost due to this delay. It is time for the Park Commission to formally adopt stream buffer regulations. Please write your letter today!
Letters, Faxes, Emails needed by March 16, 2009
Please submit comments by March 16, 2009: Please send comments to Mike White, Executive Director of the Lake George Park Commission, PO Box 749, Lake George, NY 12845; By Fax: 518.668.5001; By email: email@example.com
Background on the Importance of Streams to Lake George Water Quality and the Need for Strong Stream Buffer Regulations
Many states and municipalities across the U.S. have implemented stream buffer rules. Such rules have been found to be the most cost efficient and effective means to protect water quality. The most common form of protection for a stream is an undisturbed natural area buffer alongside streams.
The importance of streams in the Lake George basin cannot be understated. In the Lake George watershed, 141 streams have been identified. Together, these streams account for approximately half of the flow contributions to the Lake. Roughly, two-thirds of stream flow comes from seven large perennial streams including East Brook, English Brook, Finkle Brook, Hague Brook, Indian Brook, Northwest Bay Brook, and West Brook. The remainder of stream flow comes from smaller perennial and intermittent streams. All perennial and intermittent streams in the watershed flow into Lake George and effect overall water quality.
Flowing, turbulent water differentiates streams from other aquatic environments, such as lakes, ponds, and wetlands. Water constantly flows in perennial streams, but can decrease or cease for a portion of the year in intermittent or ephemeral streams. Approximately 25% of the streams in the Lake George basin are intermittent. Although these streams often receive less attention than larger, perennial streams the functional role is just as, if not more important to overall water quality. For example many headwater streams are intermittent. These streams are found at the origin of the channel and are often relatively small, but numerous and together can make up 70% to 80% of the stream's total catchment area. Therefore, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has identified the protection of headwater streams as being the most effective at maintaining overall water quality. In addition, headwater streams can store large amounts of sediment, largely influence downstream channel morphology, be an important sources of organic matter to downstream portions, and can largely influence in-stream nutrient dynamics. Headwater streams largely influence water quality and downstream functional process, but are physically, chemically, and biologically different from perennial and larger intermittent streams.
Streams in the Lake George watershed have become impacted mostly from development, since activities like agriculture are minimal in the basin. Development increases the amount of impervious surface in an area. Impervious surfaces reduce the infiltration of rainwater, increase surface runoff, and can lead to substantial instream flow fluctuations. Substantial flow fluctuations can result in channel scouring, temperature fluctuations, unnatural flood events, as well as sediment loading.
Aside from fluctuations in flow, runoff from impervious surfaces can also carry a number of different pollutants including (1) chlorides, sodium and calcium which are applied to roadways as deicing agents (2) nitrates from landscaped areas where excessive amounts of fertilizer are applied (3) phosphate and salts from excessive fertilizer application and human waste decomposition in septic systems (4) sulfates from fossil fuel combustion, as well as (5) sediment. In 2001, a study found streams that drained developed areas in the basin had higher calcium and chloride concentrations than those that drained undeveloped areas. As a result, streams in more developed areas often have reduced water quality.
Other activities such as logging can also substantially impact streams. Logging roads used in harvested forest areas can yield over 350 tons of sediment per acre per year. Such large sediment loads can severely impact streams by reducing instream habitat, aquatic communities, and create large sandbars.
Although land use activities can impact streams, streamside buffers minimize stream impacts and can:
- Trap and remove sediment
- Stabilize stream banks
- Trap and remove nutrients
- Regulate in-stream temperatures with shade
- Provide habitat for terrestrial organisms
- Improve stream aesthetics
Streams are dynamic, highly-evolved systems with a variety of important physical, biological, and chemical parameters. Minimal alterations in any these parameters can substantially alter in-stream functional processes and impact water quality. With increased pressure on our natural resources from development and other land-use activities, the need to protect water quality is critical. Stream buffers have shown to protect water quality.
The FUND for Lake George and the Lake George Waterkeeper will continue to advocate for strong stream protection buffers around the lake. The LGPC has contracted with the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District to map streams around the lake and the Center for Watershed Protection to develop draft new rules.
It is time for the Lake George Park Commission to act. Please help by contacting the Lake George Park Commission and urging action on this important issue today!