LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – It’s not pretty, but it’s true – when protecting a lake, the stuff in your septic tank matters quite a bit. The Lake George Park Commission is currently proposing measures to keep those contents better contained, and the lake all the healthier for the trouble.

The commission recently proposed a new set of regulations that would put requirements on any home with a septic system around Lake George. The regulations would require any septic system within 500 feet of the lake and 100 of a stream to meet certain criteria regarding age. These requirements target the impacts of harmful algal blooms, which can grow on water bodies fed by excess nutrient runoff – the official term for what you get when a septic tank’s contents leak out into the surrounding environment.

“What’s important about these regulations is that they would serve as a consistent approach to compliant systems – and more importantly, their maintenance,” said Chris Navitsky, Waterkeeper for the Lake George Association, which has largely praised the LGPC’s proposal. “There are nine towns around the lake, each with different approaches and their own differences.”

As laid out by the LGPC report, there are 5,957 parcels of land with septic systems in the area of the lake. Of those, 2,682 (roughly 45%) are within the affected distance – 500 feet from Lake George, and 100 feet from a stream that feeds into it.

The commission’s proposed regulations would require all of those properties to have their septic systems inspected once every five years – always by trained LGPC staff. At the same time, the owner would have to pay to get their system pumped by a certified hauler. Depending on what the inspection uncovers, one of three things would happen:

  • No issues are found, and the system passes inspection; nothing more needs to be done for the next 5 years.
  • Issues are found that culminate in the septic system failing inspection; in this case, the property owner has six months to bring it within compliance, although that deadline may be moved up depending on the severity of the problem and potential threat to the lake.
  • The system is found to be “substandard;” the ultimatum in this case is the same as if the system were to fail inspection, but the criteria are distinct.

The LGA has largely spoken in favor of the commission’s work with the proposal – except for one stipulation. A septic system would be found to be “substandard” if it met one of three criteria:

  • It has less than 100% of the legally-required capacity
  • Its absorption area is within 50 feet of Lake George or a stream that empties into the lake
  • The absorption area has under 75% of the required capacity

That second one is what the LGA wants to see revised. The New York State Department of Health Standard is to measure a septic system’s leach field or absorption area at 100 feet, to maximize the area that can be considered impacted. That metric was originally enstated around 40 years ago, meaning its introduction now would coincide with the end-of-life of aging systems.

While it is certainly recommended to perform regular maintenance on any septic system, there is currently no formal requirement in place for property owners around the Lake George basin. That puts systems out of sight, out of mind, in a way that can allow aging over the 40-year average lifespan that septic systems tend to see.

“Think about yourself as a homeowner – what is the most expensive appliance you have? It’s your septic system,” said Navitsky. “When you spend that much money on your car, you take it in to check your oil, get it maintained. People don’t do that for their septic systems.”

The Lake George area public will have their chance to weigh in on the proposal at large on Tuesday night. Fort William Henry Conference Center in the village of Lake George will host an event at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 22, where comments can be brought in-person or over Zoom, accommodating those who are traveling for Thanksgiving.

Navitsky sees the LGPC’s efforts on septic management as the one last step that was needed. The commission made an attempt at septic regulation in the 1990s, but the work was thrown out then as the result of a legal challenge. Now, it’s a new day for both the Lake George Park Commission and the Lake George Association.

“Going forward, now is the time we should work together to revisit those other regulations that have been in operation for a while. Things like boat inspection. Things like the changing climate, and warmer weather leading into these warmer months,” Navitsky said.

Meanwhile, the harmful algal bloom – the primary reason to keep septic out of the lake – has reared its head recently, for the first time in a year. In October, two blooms were found by the DEC – one with the help of the LGA’s AlgaeWatch citizen action program. Neither bloom was found to be toxic.