The Trouble with Phosphorus

Annual phosphorus loading to Lake George by land use. (data from Stearns and Wheler, 2001)
Percent of land cover by land use in Lake George Watershed. (data from Stearns and Wheler, 2001)

Urbanized areas in the Lake George watershed account for only five percent of the area but 43 percent of the annual phosphorus loading to the Lake. Sediments wash into streams and out into the Lake, bringing phosphorus attached to the soil particles. One way to help stop this transfer of phosphorus into the Lake is to stop the sources of it, such as fertilizers and detergents containing phosphorus. (Read more about phosphorus-free fertilizer in Lake George and the New York State Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law.)

What is Phosphorus?
Phosphorus is a natural element and an essential nutrient for plant growth, but it is only found
in small amounts in lakes and streams. Even small increases in phosphorus to these waterbodies
can have a devastating impact on water quality. Increased amounts of phosphorus entering a lake can stimulate algae and plant growth.

Where Does Phosphorus Come From?
Phosphorus has many sources. Some exists naturally in lakes and streams but human activities from residential, urban and agricultural areas contribute a significant amount of phosphorus. Stormwater runoff travels across land and picks up phosphorus from fertilizers, eroded soil particles, septic systems and pet waste and discharges it into nearby lakes and streams.

More phosphorus, less fish
Excess phosphorus increases algal growth. As algae die and decay, the water is robbed of dissolved oxygen. This can devastate fish populations if it occurs for a long period of time or the fish have no where else to go.

Green and Gross
Excess phosphorus can lead to an explosion of algal growth in the Lake. One pound of phosphorus can produce up to 500 pounds of wet algae!

How Does Phosphorus Affect Me?
Excess plant growth stimulated by high phosphorus inputs can impair many uses of waterways. Boating, fishing, and swimming can become difficult and lake shore property values and tourism can also be negatively impacted.

Phosphorus Expressway
Storm drains are designed to prevent flooding, but they also provide a direct route for phosphorus and other pollutants to enter Lake George.


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