By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Stony Creek Reservoir in Clifton Park is frequented by white swans, herons, turtles and eagles, according to longtime Clifton Park resident Joanne Coons. Beautiful lily pads float on it’s surface, creating a mass of green that rests atop the calm waters.
Coons and other Clifton Park residents have grown concerned about the reservoir’s health in recent years.
Earlier this spring, a burst sewage pipe put the reservoir at risk, though the pipe was repaired within 90 minutes. However, a more insidious underlying issue has been putting the reservoir’s well-being at risk for years — eutrophication caused by the phosphorus in common fertilizers.
Eutrophication is defined as “excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen,” according to Coons.
The reservoir, which is owned by the town of Colonie, is a backup water source though Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said “it hasn’t been utilized in decades, if ever.” It’s also on the Priority Waterbodies List “for suspected issues due to algae, weed growth, nutrients [and] silt sediment,” according to Jomo Miller of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“In 2010,” Miller said, “New York State passed the Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law to address the impacts of nutrients on New York’s waters. The law was intended to reduce phosphorus entering New York’s waterways through fertilizer applications.” He explained, “Excess phosphorus in freshwater lakes and ponds can cause algae overgrowth, with serious impacts to the environment and public health.“
In May, an environmental publication Harrison Patch published a story about home improvement stores across that state that had been fined after allegedly failing to comply with state environmental laws related to fertilizers containing phosphorus. According to a story written by Lanning Taliaferro, “Home Depot will pay $78,000 and Lowe’s will pay $52,000 in penalties to New York State for alleged violations of the state’s law to stop excess phosphorus from running off New York’s lawns into the water we drink, play and work on or in.”
Coons has lived in Clifton Park since 1978 when she moved from nearby Vischers Ferry. She shared her enthusiasm for environmental science, biology and earth science with Shenendehowa students for 13 years.
She urges Clifton Park residents to think about where lawn fertilizer goes when it rains. “Some goes into the ground but some runs off and it always finds its way to the river which finds its way to the ocean,” she said.
“Stony Creek is a conduit. All of Clifton Park drains into it. All the fertilizer, all the pollution ends up there,” she added. “You can see it get choked up. Eventually it will be so filled it won’t be a reservoir anymore. All that dead matter decomposes and it will get thicker and thicker and thicker and fill in eventually,” she said.
Coons said we ought to learn from what has happened in nearby Hoosick Falls and “be careful about what we put into the ground. We need to change our habits.”
She questions whether fertilizer is necessary and recommends testing the soil to see what nutrients are actually missing. She suggested letting grass grow longer before cutting it, that way the cut grass acts as a natural fertilizer. “We’re brainwashed by the people who sell the products that it’s important to apply this and apply that… it’s really not that necessary,” she said.
Mixing clover with grass can result in a healthier lawn that isn’t prone to the same damage as monoculture lawns, according to Coons. She pointed to environmental trends on the west coast like edible front lawns. “Things start there,” she said.
Prevention is key, according to Coons. “It’s like getting sick. Isn’t it better to not get sick rather than treating it after you’re sick? The earth is sick and we’re just making it sicker.”
She applauded the work of Clifton Park and its Green Committee which just established a solar field where a landfill once stood. “I have to give them credit. They are trying,” she said.
Surrounding developments and golf courses are contributing to the eutrophication apparent in the reservoir, according to Coons.
“I dread to see this beautiful water body and others that are dying. This cannot be healthy for us or for our Earth. Maybe with a little education people will think twice before adding chemicals to their lawn and ultimately our watershed. We all live downstream,” said Coons.