In & About the Park Blog
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
by: Mary Godnick - Adirondack Council's Marketing and Development Assistant
After the recent snow storm and melt, you may be wondering...where does it all go? The rivers, lakes and streams are much higher this time of year, swelling with the winter snow melt from our yards and surrounding lands. With the snow, the road salt used to keep our roads safe is also sent into our water bodies.
We talked with Dave Wick of the Lake George Park Commission about efforts in the region to move toward a lower-salt diet for roads in the Lake George watershed.
The Lake George Park Commission and other partners’ goal in reducing chloride levels in Lake George is to work with municipalities to reduce the applications of de-icing salt while still providing for safe, passable roads in wintertime. New methods and technologies are available to achieve this balance, but work needs to be done to change long-standing winter road management practices.
The inspiration behind this regional effort came from a 30-year study, released two years ago, that focused on the ecological and human health impacts of high levels of chloride (salt) in the water. It found a tripling in chloride levels in Lake George that is attributed to de-icing within the watershed. This brought groups and municipalities together to work to do better for, what Dave called, the area's “life blood”- the lake.
These efforts are coming to fruition. In New York State, there has been more focus on this issue in past five years as communities are using new de-icing strategies and ways to apply road salt. One such strategy is to have highway departments switch from applying dry rock salt to the roads to using a salt and water solution known as “brine.” Traditional rock salt application causes the salt to bounce and scatter across the road and 30 percent ends up in ditches as soon as it is applied. Using brine on roads in advance of a storm greatly reduces snow and ice’s ability to stick to roads, making it much easier to plow off. This lessens icing issues which is the main purpose of applying salt on roads.
By using brine, highway departments can reduce their overall salt application rates by as much as 40 percent over a whole season, which is great for both the lake and for the highway department budgets. The Town of New Hartford, near Utica (just outside the Adirondack Park), has switched entirely to a brining operation, and the savings in salt over recent years has more than paid back the cost of all of their start-up equipment. Their salt budget is down more than $50,000 per year, and their roads are as safe as ever.
Back in the Lake George region, new and better equipment will be in use next year as the Town of Queensbury adopted a resolution to purchase new equipment for the region through a grant from New York State Senator Betty Little, R-Queensbury. Also a donation of a brine mixer from Arrowhead Equipment will be used by the Town of Lake George for regional demonstrations. In addition, 23 road temperature sensors will check air and pavement temperatures to see when application is needed, helping reduce salt applications to when they are really needed.
The role of groups like the Commission, the Lake George Association and the Fund for Lake George in this effort is to find best practices and help towns move into them more seamlessly. When they find something that works, the groups can help towns create test areas to see what would be best for them.
Right now, the groups are working to develop policies for snow and ice management for towns around the Lake George watershed. They hope to set practices and experiments for reducing salt use and provide the assurance to towns around the lake that they are not investing in new strategies on their own.
It will take many years before Lake George shows any difference in chloride levels because there is legacy salt in the soil and the groundwater supply. For example, Finkle Brook, that crosses a road network in Bolton Landing, has more than 100 times the amount of chloride than areas with no roads in watershed. Plus, a study by the Adirondack Watershed Institute notes that upwards of 80 percent of wells in the Adirondack Park that are close to roads may be affected by road salt in some fashion. So anything we can do to reduce road salt is a step in the right direction.
The best case scenario: an eventual reduction from current levels of 30-50 percent of road salt on roads resulting in noticeable reduction of salt in groundwater three - five years later. Dave hopes that within a few years, the surrounding nine municipalities will have adopted these new practices and policies, making their efforts more environmentally sustainable and ultimately more cost-effective.
We hope to see these projects work well for the communities next year, and that more safe solutions for using less road salt are tested around the Adirondacks.
The Adirondack Council and other organizations are supporting research and advocating for state policies to address water degradation caused by winter road management.
For more information, please read our report:"Low Sodium Diet - Curbing New York’s Appetite for Damaging Road Salt," and visit:
Adk Watershed Institute Road Salt Research
Adk Action on Road Salt
Adirondack Research: The Hidden Costs of Road Salt