One consistent bit of feedback taken from the stakeholder survey — part of our Upper Saranac Watershed Management Plan process — was the alarming rise in the number of boats using our waterways and the increase in the size of boats. Comments and interactions during the public comment period made it apparent that there are increasing tensions and conflicts among various user groups. This trend was accelerated over the Covid-19 pandemic and doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon.
The good news is that more people are enjoying our waterways than ever before. The bad news is that with the increase in boat capacity, power, and the number of boats on the waterways, there comes negative impacts. Are there increased safety concerns? Are carrying capacities being pushed to the limit? Is there a certain number of boats or types of boats exceeding a threshold where there is damage to the ecology of the waterbody? As boats are now being designed and specifically set up to make large wakes, what are the impacts on shoreline erosion, wildlife habitats, and other consequences due to more powerful prop thrust on lake beds?
As protectors of water quality, one issue the Upper Saranac Foundation (USF) is looking at is how phosphorus is impacted by wave action. We know that phosphorus is a contributing factor for algal blooms. We also know that phosphorus is in shoreline soils and bottom sediments. By disturbing the bottom sediment and eroding the shoreline, phosphorus is being added to the water and potentially increasing opportunities for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).
Two HABs were confirmed last summer on Upper Saranac Lake and another algal bloom occurred on Lower Fish Creek Pond. Studies evaluating wakesurf boat waves comparing waves created by traditional recreational boats suggest that wakesurf boats should be operated at greater distances from shoreline compared to typical recreational boats to decrease shoreline impacts. One study by researchers at the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering indicated that wakesurf boats require distances greater than 500 feet from the shoreline to decrease their wake wave characteristics to levels similar to those of non-wakesurf boats.