AUSABLE WATER WISE: Mirror Lake has a new dock, cleaner water

The sky around Mirror Lake in the village of Lake Placid was hazy Monday, July 17. Smoke from Canadian wildfires prompted New York state government officials to issue air quality advisories on Monday and Tuesday. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Spring 2023 was an exciting time for both the village of Lake Placid and Mirror Lake. May marked an improvement in Mirror Lake’s water quality that was years in the making — the installation of a new, unencapsulated polystyrene-free dock at the public beach.

Polystyrene, like Styrofoam, poses numerous threats to water quality. These products have an incredibly long lifespan, taking 500 years or more to decompose. On a shorter timeframe, rather than decomposing, polystyrene products break down into smaller and smaller pieces, known as polystyrene beads.

Due to their small size, these microplastic beads are nearly impossible to remove from the environment once they have entered it. The beads can leech carcinogenic chemicals into the water. They are often mistaken for food and eaten by aquatic organisms, causing them to die of starvation with a stomach full of plastic beads.

Polystyrene is banned for use in food containers in many places around the world due to these environmental and health concerns. Because bans on polystyrene for other uses are less common, it is still widely used for other purposes, including docks.

The deterioration of the dock at the public beach and the shedding of polystyrene pieces into Mirror Lake was first observed in 2020, but it is unclear when it began. Once the problem with the dock was noticed, the village and other local organizations, particularly the Mirror Lake Watershed Association, began working on a solution.

In 2021, the village received a $150,000 grant from the North Elba Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund (LEAF) to remove and replace the dock. In late 2022, the old deteriorating dock was finally removed.

“The Ausable River Association is excited to see the village and local organizations come together to find solutions to water quality issues in Mirror Lake. Our water systems are essential to the ecology that makes this area special and the communities that rely on their health,” said AsRA Executive Director Kelley Tucker. “We join our partners in celebrating the removal of the dock and the installation of a new, safer dock.”

MLWA board member Sandy Bissell said, “It’s exciting to see things change for the better, as it always feels like it takes a long time for new laws to be enacted. This job, of course, will not be completed until the last privately owned dock with unencapsulated foam is removed from the lake. In the meantime, the MLWA takes pride in this small but important victory that will contribute to the health of Mirror Lake and we are grateful to our local boards for making it happen.”

A reminder to other dock owners on Mirror Lake: Due to the environmental hazards of unencapsulated foam, a local law now bans its use in docks after 2023.

(Carolyn Koestner is the GIS and Science Communications Fellow at the Ausable River Association.)

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