Using Critical Loads to Look at Improvements in Acidic Surface Water Conditions since the 1990 Amendments to the Clear Air Act: Case Study Adirondack, NY

J. Lynch
Washington, D.C. USA

Acid deposition has affected hundreds of lakes and thousands of miles of headwater streams in the Adirondack region of New York State. The diversity of life in these acidic waters has been greatly reduced. The poor buffering capacity of the thin, acidic soils in the Adirondack Mountains makes the lakes and ponds particularly susceptible to acidification. Since the mid-1990ís, lakes in the Adirondack region are finally showing signs of recovery. The good news is that emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides have been reduced and as a result acidic deposition of sulfate and nitrate has decreased in surface waters approximately 26 and 13%, respectively. This has led to improvement in the acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) of these water bodies. Although improvement in water quality is a good sign, it does not tell us if a particular lake or a group of lakes have recovered from decades of acidic deposition. However, the critical loads approach does allow for evaluation of whether a water body has reached recovery for acidic deposition. Critical loads and exceedances for lake surface water and acidity were calculated for 187 lakes in the Adirondack region. The Steady-State Water Chemistry (SSWC) model was used to calculate the critical load, relying on water chemistry data from the TIME/LTM network. An ANC threshold of 50 ueq/L was selected for this case study. Exceedances were calculated from deposition for the period before implementation of the Acid Rain program (ARP) (1989-1991) and for the period of 2004-2006 to judge improvements as a result of the ARP. On average, the critical load for lakes in the Adirondack region is 164 meq/m2/yr, while it is 48 meq/m2/yr for the most sensitive lakes (i.e. ANC less than 100 ueq/L). For the period from 2004 to 2006, 65% of the lakes within the TIME/LTM network continued to receive levels of acid deposition that exceeded the lakeís critical load down from 72% of lakes before implementation of the Acid Rain Program. Despite improvement in water quality that has occurred over the past decades in the Adirondack region, additional reduction in acidic deposition is needed in order for greater recovery of these sensitive aquatic systems.