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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Supporting science in our backyard

Phil Snyder of the Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation monitors the water quality of Hope Pond. Phil will join the staff of the Ausable River Association when ALSC merges with AsRA. (Provided photo — L. Thalmann/AsRA)

Earlier this month the Ausable River Association announced that the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation will become one of its programs.

The merger should be approved by both boards later this year. ALSC’s Phil Snyder will join AsRA’s staff to manage the work of the new program. AsRA plans to maintain the ALSC water quality and fisheries laboratory in Ray Brook. Both organizations are contributing to the development of a new intensive monitoring effort, known as SCALE, that will analyze the impacts of climate change on select Adirondack lakes. The knowledge gained will be critical to the management and protection of waterways in New York and beyond.

For those who don’t know, ALSC was formed as a nonprofit in 1983 — a farsighted cooperative effort by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the now defunct Empire State Electric Research Corporation. Its staff was tasked with monitoring changes to natural ecosystems in the Adirondack Mountain ecological zone, focusing on water quality, atmospheric deposition, fish presence, and other biological and chemical studies. From 1984 to 1987, intensive ALSC field and laboratory analysis of over 1,460 Adirondack lakes identified a pattern of chemical acidification that informed the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, effectively curbing acid rain. With funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the DEC, it has continued to monitor a subset of those lakes annually for 30 years and taken on other projects, creating a treasure trove of publicly available water and air quality data.

So why merge? Here are AsRA’s three top reasons: First, to support scientific research in the Adirondack Park. We’re keeping the tradition of independent field and laboratory science strong in the Park. It’s ironic, but with climate change transforming ecosystems and our lives, when we need it the most, financial support has ebbed for the basic, nerdy science that patiently monitors trends, investigates concerns, and informs policy and management. ALSC was looking for a new home or partnership. By supporting ALSC, AsRA is investing in that science and the people who pursue it, creating good jobs along the way.

Second, to build stronger partnerships to tackle intransigent problems. We need a full range of strong partners to tackle the 21st century issues facing our lakes and streams and the fresh water we rely on. AsRA is ensuring that our federal, state, municipal, academic, and nonprofit partners don’t lose a critical scientific resource in the Adirondack Park: the irreplaceable field knowledge of ALSC’s staff. AsRA and ALSC are working with representatives of Cornell University, DEC, NYSERDA, Paul Smith’s College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Syracuse University, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and others to develop a Survey of Climate change and Adirondack Lake Ecosystems. Seed funding of $500,000 allocated from the state budget will be used over the next year to begin the launch of this extensive monitoring effort. SCALE will help all of us understand climate change impacts on freshwater ecosystems — carbon storage, native species shifts, oxygen availability, and harmful algal blooms. That knowledge will guide management of Adirondack lakes for decades to come and could serve as a model for environmental stewardship across the country.

Third, to pursue AsRA’s mission — science and stewardship that create solutions in our communities. With more scientific professionals working and living in the Park, gaining intimate knowledge of our lakes, streams, and the ecosystems that make the Adirondacks special, we gain more opportunities to inform and address the challenges in our backyard. That’s one of AsRA’s goals: to use what we learn from the best science — projects like SCALE — to inform our work protecting the Ausable watershed and neighboring watersheds. It’s more efficient and effective with a skilled team of professionals on staff, working closely with our partners.

We need to build back support and funding for this kind of patient, nerdy science. It’s time for all of us to reinvest in rigorous, basic science, to recognize the importance of the Park as a place to monitor and assess significant changes that affect the quality of our air and water. Such knowledge is invaluable for guiding how we protect our precious natural resources and keep our communities healthy, in the Park and beyond its borders. Drop us a line if you’d like to invest with us: contactus@ausableriver.org.

(Kelley Tucker is executive director of the Ausable River Association.)