WHAT IS THE UPPER SARANAC FOUNDATION?
It’s all about water quality.
- It was created in 1989 by Upper Saranac Lake Association members to be the charitable fundraising vehicle for major projects on the Lake.
- It is accountable and responsible to its donors and an independent Board of Directors.
- It is managed by Officers elected by the Board of Directors.
- It successfully rebuilt the failed Bartlett Carry Dam, on time, on budget, preventing the Lake level from dropping by three feet or more.
- It successfully sued the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, leading to a 90% reduction in pollution flowing from the New York State Fish Hatchery directly into Upper Saranac Lake’s inlet at the northern end.
- It successfully completed a three-year, $1.5 million program to control Milfoil – a highly destructive invasive species – on time and on budget.
- It manages an annual Milfoil Control harvest program to prevent uncontrolled re-growth and spread of this harmful plant.
- It monitors septic systems, both large and small, for compliance with New York State laws.
- It monitors construction, land use and development, and the Bartlett Carry Dam, to ensure compliance with all regulations and codes.
- It monitors the New York State Department of Conservation Fish Hatchery for compliance with a court-ordered settlement.
- It employs a Lake Manager, who serves as the eyes and ears of the Foundation and the Lake community and oversees all of the Foundation’s projects.
- The Lake Manager is constantly looking for the next invasive species – for early identification and remediation.
- It is responsible for the scientific data involved with the Lake’s water quality – sample collection, testing and analysis.
- At the request of the Upper Saranac Lake Association, it has provided funding for the Lake Steward Program and ad-hoc issues that have confronted the Lake Community, including legal action where required.
What is the difference between the Upper Saranac Lake Association (USLA) and the Upper Saranac Foundation (USF)?
The Association and the Foundation have virtually the same mission, i.e. to protect the Lake and its environs. It is important to understand that the two organizations cooperate and complement each other. However, although the organizations were designed to pursue a common mission, they are structured differently from a legal perspective and must therefore serve as separate entities functioning independently and having individual accountability. Listed below are a few characteristics that distinguish the two organizations:
- USLA is a voluntary, dues-paying membership entity. The Foundation is not.
- The USLA is a not-for-profit home-owners organization. The Foundation is a tax-exempt, charitable organization as defined under section 501 (c) (3) of the IRS code. Each organization has its own set of accounting responsibilities.
- USLA depends primarily on dues to fund its activities. The Foundation solicits tax-deductible gifts from donors. Each organization must file detailed reports for tax purposes separately.
- While the mission statements of both organizations are similar, the purpose and function of the USLA is more akin to a traditional “Property Owners Association,” while the purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to manage projects considered to be of vital importance to the health of the Lake and its immediate surroundings.
- USLA holds scheduled annual membership meetings. Paid members vote on certain issues and elect the executive officers of the organization. The Foundation is not a membership organization; its Board elects its officers.
- USLA is permitted to be more politically active than the Foundation.
What is the history of the two groups?
The Upper Saranac Lake Association (USLA) was founded in 1901. Through the first three quarters of the 20th century, the Association was used largely as an information clearing house about fishing in the Lake. It mostly served a social function, though it did report extensively about the health and welfare of the lake fishery and fishermen. It raised and contributed funds used to rebuild the Bartlett Carry dam in the early 1920s. Saranac Inn played a significant role in the USLA until after World War II. Early on, there were few problems, environmental or otherwise, demanding the Association’s attention. Following the war, Lake usage increased rapidly and led to growing water quality challenges. The community’s awareness of these problems grew, and the Association recognized a need for a greater understanding about water quality issues. Today, Association membership has grown to over 550, and the USLA has become increasingly involved and active at the local and state levels, serving as an advocacy group for property owners and for the interests and concerns facing the Lake and its environs.
The Upper Saranac Foundation (USF) was founded in 1989. In the late 1980s, the Bartlett Carry Dam was leaking badly. Lake owners noted the water level was erratically lower. The USLA concluded, after extensive study and expert consultation, that the dam needed to be rebuilt without delay. The risk of doing nothing, aside from potential dangers downstream, was the loss of about 3-1/2 feet of water depth.
Since the dam was privately owned, no funding would be available from governmental sources. The leaders of the Association quickly recognized that significant funds would need to be raised from the Lake community to rebuild the dam. To facilitate the necessary fundraising, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization was formed: The Upper Saranac Foundation. All gifts to the new Foundation would be tax deductible. The dam and necessary adjoining land rights were purchased for one dollar. Over $500,000 was successfully raised to rebuild the dam (to our specs, not the State’s). It was a very difficult job during the particularly harsh winter of 1993/1994 but was completed on time and on budget!
In the winter and summer of 1989/1990, a massive, Lake-wide blue/green algae bloom occurred in the Lake. The Lake was essentially unusable during that summer. Extensive research and testing traced the source of the algae bloom to the New York State DEC’s Fish Hatchery in the town of Lake Clear. The hatchery was releasing a nutrient-rich broth directly into a stream that feeds into Upper Saranac Lake via the Lake Clear Inlet. The nutrients were gobbled up by the voracious algae, which multiplied rapidly. The alarm was sounded. It was clear that no one else was going to take care of this priceless place; that we had to do it ourselves. The Association’s Executive Committee, together with its very strong Environmental Committee, spearheaded legal proceedings, which led to a lengthy court battle. The result: The NYS/DEC Fish Hatchery lowered its nutrient load into the Lake by a full 90%. Monitoring of outflows continues on a regular basis to assure continuing compliance.
The next threat to the Lake was an invasion of Eurasian Water Milfoil. For two years, the Association, with funding from the Foundation, attempted to control the spread with a small team of divers hand harvesting the invasive weed. By 2004, it was evident that this program was inadequate. Milfoil was spreading faster than it could be harvested by the divers. Recognizing the scope, severity and threat, the Foundation, with professional consultants, designed a three-year, $1.5 million project to gain the upper hand. Once again the Lake community rose to the occasion, donating the entire cost of the project.
Because of the size of the Milfoil operation and the Foundation’s fiduciary responsibility to its donors, the Foundation oversaw the successful project. Milfoil growth was dramatically reduced and contained. The challenge for the future is to continue to contain Milfoil at its current level of infestation, with a reduced crew and budget. Milfoil cannot be eradicated, so it must be annually controlled.
Other concerns on the Foundation’s agenda include monitoring of septic systems, large and small, and “smart growth”- monitoring environmental breeches and regulation violations by contractors and property owners. Both need to be closely watched to maintain the water quality of the Lake. The Foundation is also responsible for the science involved with water quality – its testing and analysis. Upper Saranac Lake has one of the largest databases covering the scientific history of its waters and quality in the Adirondacks.
The water quality of Upper Saranac Lake has always been, and will always be, the top priority of both the Upper Saranac Lake Association and the Upper Saranac Foundation – sister, but legally arm’s length, organizations.