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Coming full circle: --after recovering from acid rain, Brooktrout Lake once again has brook trout.

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I went with my family on vacations near Indian Lake in the Adirondacks. I considered this area the most beautiful and wonderful place in the world. My dad would take my mom, sister and me fishing all afternoon, and in the evening tell us stories of great fishing trips of the past.

As time went on, we caught fewer and smaller fish. Dad said he heard in the news that acid rain was killing some of the lakes and ponds. I didn't know what that meant, and I am not sure he did either. How could rain be bad?

Years later I started working for the Department of Environmental Conservation. By then, acid rain and its impacts were better understood, and New York State and the federal government began to pass laws to reverse the damage.

Acid rain is a broad term referring to rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog, and deposits of particles and gases from the atmosphere. It is formed when sulfur dioxide (S[O.sub.2]), nitrogen oxides (NOx--meaning N[O.sub.2], N[O.sub.3], or N[O.sub.4]), and ammonia (N[H.sub.3]) combine with moisture in the atmosphere to produce sulfuric and nitric acid.

In the United States, about two-thirds of all S[O.sub.2] and one-quarter of all NOx come from electric power generation from burning fossil fuels, like coal. Prevailing winds can send these pollutants far away from the industries that created them. In New York, the Adirondack region has suffered the most from acid rain due to high annual precipitation along with shallow soils and bedrock of the type that doesn't buffer acid runoff very well.

Fish cannot survive in an acidic lake, river or stream because the acidic water disrupts their reproductive cycle. Also, the acid in the water causes aluminum to leach from the soil into the water, clogging the fish's gills and altering their blood chemistry. As the water becomes more acidic, one species after another disappears.

But this story is about recovery! In 1984, New York State passed the first law in the nation to control acid rain, the State Acid Deposition Control Act. Then in 1990, Congress amended the federal Clean Air Act to require nationwide controls on S[O.sub.2] and NOx. As a result of these laws, national S[O.sub.2] and NOx emissions have declined and some waterbodies are showing signs of improvement.

One recovering Adirondack lake is Brooktrout Lake located in Hamilton County and within the West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. In 1950, biologist Martin Pfeiffer conducted a fisheries survey on Brooktrout lake and wrote a four-page report extolling the virtues of the well-named lake. Sixty brook trout were caught--all of wild origin--ranging from 6.7 to 14.7 inches in length. He reported that the brook trout population was self-sustaining. Unfortunately, subsequent fish surveys over the years captured fewer and fewer fish until, in 1984, no fish were found.

In 1992, the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation (ALSC) began a long-term monitoring program to assess trends in water chemistry in 52 lakes and ponds throughout the Adirondack Park. Two years later, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) began an independent assessment program to monitor chemical changes, and study acidification effects on fish and other aquatic biota on 30 of the 52 waters; these were concentrated in the southwest quadrant of the Adirondack Park. Brooktrout Lake was included as a study site in both of these programs.

Data collected at Brooktrout Lake by ALSC and RPI indicated that significant improvements had taken place in the lake's chemistry and biology over time. By 2005, the lake had recovered enough to consider restocking it with trout, and that fall DEC stocked fingerling Horn Lake Heritage Strain brook trout. This strain was chosen because it is native to Horn Lake, which is located about eight miles from Brooktrout Lake and in the same watershed. Monitoring the lake for changes in water quality and biota, DEC again stocked fingerlings in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

In 2010, Brooktrout Lake became a success story when the first wild trout offspring were netted in the lake. Two years later, a DEC hatchery technician observed and photographed a trout fry (young fish) swimming in the near-shore area. This provided additional confirmation of an

established, self-sustaining brook trout population. In June the same year, a field crew conducting a survey at Brooktrout Lake also observed and photographed several brook trout fry. It was official: Brooktrout Lake was the first verified example of recovery in a region heavily affected by acid rain.

The results from Brooktrout Lake are encouraging for other impacted Adirondack waters. In fact, there are several nearby lakes that are also becoming less acidic, and DEC recently began stocking trout in Deep Lake and Indian Lake. Honnedaga Lake in Herkimer County is also a success story.

As a person who likes to fish in the Adirondacks, I am very glad to hear about these recovering lakes. However, we still have a long way to go. Even with the reductions achieved under the Clean Air Act, computer models project that the problem of acidic deposition in the Adirondacks will continue for some time. Furthermore, once affected, some lakes can take up to a century to regain their ability to neutralize acid.

Brooktrout Lake's recovery provides an optimistic outlook for the recovery of more favorite fishing spots. This success story is motivation to continue the fight to save and protect the Adirondacks.

You Can Help Fight Acid Rain

There are ways we can all help reduce S[O.sub.2] and NOx. Since many of the pollutants are emitted from power plants, conserving energy is essential. Automobiles are also a source of these pollutants, so we can reduce emissions if we take public transportation or carpool. As a concerned citizen, notify your representatives in Congress to encourage them to support legislation that limits S[O.sub.2] and NOx emissions.

photos by Dave Winkler unless otherwise noted

Leila Mitchell works in DEC'S Division of Water office in Albany.
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Author:Mitchell, Leila
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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