Lake George Inspection Training Attracted Surprising Crowds

Onsite programming strikes a chord with upstate New York wastewater professionals interested in preserving a clean watershed.

Lake George Inspection Training Attracted Surprising Crowds

Chris Navitsky

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Lake George, in upstate New York, is 32 miles long and 200 feet deep at its maximum and is one of the cleanest and clearest large lakes in the world, according to the Waterkeeper Alliance. Yet it has problems, and municipalities surrounding the lake are looking for ways to make sure it stays clean.

Last year, the town of Bolton began requiring septic system inspections when a property is sold or transferred. To ensure adequate inspectors for the task, the town and its partners offered training to anyone who wanted to learn the skill. In a community of just over 2,000 people, there were 57 names on the roster for the first class in June 2019.

“We were surprised by the interest,” says Chris Navitsky, the Lake George waterkeeper. And enrollment was limited by the size of the room available, he says. Navitsky is also a professional engineer and part of the staff of The FUND for Lake George, a conservation group that helped the town provide the training.


Lake George is in the southeastern corner of New York’s Adirondack Park, 6 million acres valued for their recreational and ecological assets. Yet in the past dozen years, the lake and other bodies of water in the area have faced increasing water-quality issues.

Only half of the recreational acreage is owned by the state. The other half is privately owned for homes, businesses, farms and so on. The private land has contributed to nutrient loads in the lake, and septic systems are part of that nutrient problem.

The need for the inspection program was clear. With a grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the FUND did a study of septic systems in the town of Lake George, which is next to Bolton. Systems investigated were either within 500 feet of the lakeshore or within 100 feet of tributaries, Navitsky says.

Through surveys and a review of town records, the study evaluated about 400 septic systems. Of those systems, 39% were 30 years old or younger, 12% were 30 to 40 years old, 21% were more than 40 years old and the ages of 28% of the systems were unknown.

The same lack of information applied to pumping. About half of system owners had no record or had not had their tanks pumped recently, Navitsky says, and 20% of the systems were undersized based on the number of bedrooms in the homes they served.

In 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed $65 million in the state budget to combat harmful algae blooms. The state focused on 12 high-profile lakes, and Lake George was one, says Susan Wilson, deputy supervisor for the town of Bolton. Still, she adds, among the 12 lakes, Lake George is one of the few that hasn’t had a positively identified harmful bloom.

In May 2019, the town passed its septic system inspection ordinance. Nearby communities have ordinances effective for properties near the lake or located on a tributary stream, but Bolton’s ordinance encompassed the entire town, Wilson says.

“We chose to do the entire town because 85% of our town is in the watershed,” she says. An even 2,300 parcels are subject to inspections under the ordinance.


The New York Onsite Wastewater Treatment Training Network — an organization of engineers, installers and other water professionals — provided the training and certification with sponsorship from the FUND and the Lake George Association. The program was advertised at the beginning of summer, which is a busy time for the area, and people had only about three weeks to learn of the class and sign up, Navitsky says.

About half of the 57 attendees came from the town, Wilson says. The other half came from other municipalities, she says, from the Warren County Board, the Lake George Park Authority and other town governments. Lake George is shared by 11 towns and a village in three counties.

“I found that very interesting and exciting,” Wilson says. “I think they were there because of their interest in the program and expanding it to their municipalities.”

“I took the course myself,” Navitsky says. “We bought lunch for everybody there. It was part of our sponsorship.”

Participants paid a $200 registration fee.

It was a whole day of work. Training began in the morning with classroom study that continued into the early afternoon, he says. Then trainers took prospective inspectors into the field. The class visited a community center and did an inspection of its system — the grease trap, septic tank, pump station and line up to the drainfield, and the instructors showed how a locator is used.

“I think it was accepted that this was a good program and something that may have been overdue, just because people know that overall there’s a lack of knowledge of the systems,” Navitsky says.

At the moment, there are no plans for another class, Wilson says. If the town sees a need for more inspectors in the future, it can consider that option.


One group that has had concerns about the ordinance is real estate agents.

“There were no complaints about the inspection program,” Wilson says. “They were just concerned about how it could impact sales given the length of time needed for inspections.”

This is a common worry among real estate agents in other areas with inspection laws, and the training was intended to help avoid such delays. Any inspection is good for three years, Wilson says. As information about the ordinance spreads, she says, the town hopes owners will begin the inspection process in advance of listing a property.

From another viewpoint, the strong interest in the inspection training is not surprising at all.

“Lake George is our economic driver,” Wilson says. “If Lake George deteriorates into something that’s not going to attract tourism, that would have an economic impact, not only in Bolton, but in Warren County and probably even farther.”  


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