How Road Salt is Impacting Our Adirondack Waters

By: Casey Marvell - Adirondack Council's Policy Fellow
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The excessive application of road salt on state roadways in the Adirondack Park is contaminating our beautiful lakes and streams. And unfortunately, it’s happening at an alarming rate. Clean water is the lifeblood of the Adirondacks. These surface waters not only support recreation and tourism, but aquatic ecosystems and drinking water as well. Without updating our road management practices in the Adirondacks, road salt pollution will continue to jeopardize safe drinking water for years to come.

Take Action to Protect Adirondack Drinking Water

In the Adirondack Park, there are 10,555 lane-miles of paved roads.State roads, managed by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), comprise 2,380 or 27% of these miles. The rest (7,725 or 73%) are town roads. However, the NYSDOT uses 2.5 times as much road salt in the Adirondacks as towns use, even though the state applies salt to less than one-third of the Park’s roads. These practices contribute to New York State being the largest user of road salt in North America.

The most recent research conducted by the Adirondack Watershed Institute and partners found that in testing over 500 private drinking wells in the Adirondack Park, sodium levels in more than half of the wells receiving state road salt runoff exceeded New York’s drinking water quality guidelines. One in four wells that receive state road salt runoff exceeded the state’s water quality standards for chloride, while none of the wells that receive local road salt runoff exceeded those levels.

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When roadside water quality data is compared to data from more remote and unpolluted water sources, the average chloride concentration of roadside waters is 22 times higher than non-roadside water. A 2013 peer-reviewed study demonstrated that 84% of the chloride buildup in Adirondack surface waters could be directly attributed to New York State’s use of road salt. In order for the state to avoid a potential Adirondack drinking water crisis, state road management practices need to be updated to ensure public health and clean water.

Each year at the New York State Capitol, lawmakers pass legislation that impacts the Adirondack Park for generations to come. This year we must convince state leaders to take action to protect clean Adirondack waters from road salt pollution. Legislation (A.8767/ S.6824) has been introduced that will create an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force which will take a strategic approach to reduce excess road salt usage and ensure clean water while maintaining safe road ways. Action on road salt cannot wait, and this crucial legislation will only pass with your help. CLICK HERE to take action and help preserve pure Adirondack waters for current and future generations.

Report: Regional analysis of the effect of paved roads on sodium and chloride in lakes
Report: Review of Effects and Costs of Road De-icing with Recommendations for Winter Road Management in the Adirondack Park

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/staff-headshots/Casey_Marvel2.jpgCasey Marvel is the Policy Fellow in the Council’s Albany office. He assists the government relations and communication teams by tracking legislation, researching issues and advocating for the Adirondacks. A native of Niskayuna, New York, Casey recently completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Albany, and is currently pursuing his Master’s in Political Science. Casey has always been intrigued and passionate about the Adirondacks, having visited the Park throughout his life, from fishing at Paradox Lake, to recently pursuing the 46 High Peaks.

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