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Fact Sheet 2009–3075

Acid Rain Effects on Adirondack Streams—Results from the 2003–05 Western Adirondack Stream Survey (the WASS Project)

By Gregory B. Lawrence1, Karen M. Roy2, Barry P. Baldigo1, Howard A. Simonin3, Sophia I. Passy4, Robert W. Bode3, and Susan B. Capone5

1 U.S. Geological Survey.
2 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
3 Retired, formerly New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
4 The University of Texas at Arlington.
5 Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation.


Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.75 MB)

Traditionally lakes have been the focus of acid rain assessments in the Adirondack region of New York. However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of streams as environmental indicators. Streams, like lakes, also provide important aquatic habitat, but streams more closely reflect acid rain effects on soils and forests and are more prone to acidification than lakes. Therefore, a large-scale assessment of streams was undertaken in the drainage basins of the Oswegatchie and Black Rivers; an area of 4,585 km2 in the western Adirondack region where acid rain levels tend to be highest in New York State.

Key Findings

  • Acid rain has acidified soils resulting in toxic aluminum in 66 percent of 565 assessed streams.
  • Diatoms, an environmentally sensitive group of algae, were moderately to severely affected by acid rain in
    80 percent of assessed streams.
  • Aquatic insects and related organisms referred to as macroinvertebrates were moderately to severely affected
    in 52 percent of assessed streams.
  • Recovery from acidification has been minimal in 11 of 12 Adirondack streams sampled previously in the
    early 1980s.
  • The base-cation surplus, a new acidification index developed for this project, indicated that not more than one-third of measured stream acidity was from natural sources.

For additional information contact:
U.S. Geological Survey
New York Water Science Center
425 Jordan Road
Troy, NY 12180

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Lawrence, G.B., Roy, K.M., Baldigo, B.P., Simonin, H.A., Passy, S.I., Bode, R.W., and Capone, S.B., Acid rain effects on Adirondack streams—Results from the 2003–05 Western Adirondack Stream Survey (the WASS Project):  U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2009–3075, 6 p.

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