This is the third story in a series digging into the economic and environmental costs of using rock salt. Each week News10 ABC will explore the multiple aspects of this issue as it concerns N.Y, its counties, cities, towns and villages.
ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- In March 2018, the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a pilot program that would focus on using alternative techniques to keep roads clear during winter weather.
The pilot program was put into place after high levels of rock salt were found in Lake George and Mirror Lake, in Lake Placid, according to the DOT’s website.
A few years before the DOT implemented the pilot program, the chloride and sodium level in Mirror Lake was found to be higher than 97 percent of lakes that were part of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program, according to the Ausable River Association’s website.
Currently, the salt contamination of Mirror Lake is still so severe that spring turnover doesn’t occur, according to the association’s website. Turnover mixes the top and bottom water levels. It occurs twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. It’s also vital to the health of the lake because it helps redistribute oxygen and nutrients throughout the water.
Lack of spring turnover leads to a lack of oxygen at the bottom of Mirror Lake and is a deadly problem for the entire ecosystem.
Lake George isn’t as contaminated with salt as Mirror Lake, but monitoring by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute, over a course of more than 30 years, has shown an increase in salt over time.
The goal of the DOT’s pilot program is to reduce the amount of road salt used on 16 miles of State Route 86 spanning through three municipalities, the Town of North Elba, the Town of Wilmington and the Village of Lake Placid in Essex County.
The program also planned to reduce the road salt used on a 17-mile-stretch of Route 9N from the Village of Lake George to the Town of Bolton.
The New York State Department of Transportation’s pilot programs to explore the potential for road salt reductions in snow & ice operations are proceeding as planned. NYSDOT will continue these important projects for the next several seasons in order to have sufficient data and meaningful results as we study their effectiveness and ability to maintain reasonable levels of service while always providing for the safety of the traveling public.
GLENN BLAIN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
The program uses a combination of environmentally sustainable methods for clearing roadways in order to reduce the amount of road salt in Mirror Lake and Lake George.
Science and Stewardship Director for the Ausable River Association, Brendan Wiltse, says a large amount of runoff, the lake’s location and heavy urbanization are the main reasons why salt levels are much higher in Mirror Lake than other lakes in the Adirondack’s.
“It’s probably been occurring for over a decade. We only found out about it because we were looking,” Wiltse says. He also says increased salt in the freshwater bodies of N.Y. should be a concern for everyone.
Wiltse says volunteers are taking water samples of freshwater bodies throughout N.Y., but testing only looks at surface salinity. Salt is dense and sinks to the bottom as is the case with Mirror Lake.
Wiltse who says the Ausable River Association acts as an advisor to the DOT’s pilot program thinks the DOT understands that although any action taken to reduce rock salt usage may not be seen in the environment for some time, they all will remain dedicated to the program’s success.
In the case of Mirror Lake, Wiltse says their main priority is to achieve spring turnover. He says a significant decrease in salt usage in 2020 for example, could allow spring turnover to occur in spring 2021.
Wiltse also says the association works with businesses surrounding the lake, educating them on how to use rock salt smartly. “In Lake Placid, it’s going to take a community effort. It’s gotta be everyone working together,” he says.
Wiltse says most of the businesses around the lake understand that the health of Mirror Lake is “tied to the health of the community.” He says his organization’s first goal is to achieve spring turnover in the lake, something they are hoping to achieve within 5 years.
Wiltse says it’s important to have data on N.Y.’s bodies of water which includes checking deep water salinity. “The science is clear that we need to use less salt,” Wiltse says. “We need our elected officials to determine how to address this problem.”
The fourth story in this series will look at a program helping municipalities use salt more sustainably and how much taxpayers actually spend because of rock salt usage.