This article by Anthony Hall appeared in The Lake George Mirror.
Water drawn from wells near state highways contains much higher levels of salinity than water tested along local roads, a new study finds.
In fact, according to standards promulgated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the water is so salty it may not be safe for some people to drink.
That study, a collaborative effort of the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College and the Lake George Waterkeeper, among others, has yet to be published, but its ndings appear to be among the things that persuaded New York State’s Department of Transportation to launch what it calls “an innovative pilot program to help rejuvenate Lake George by reducing the application of road salt while still protecting the safety of the traveling public.”
The project will be conducted next winter within a 17 mile stretch of State Route 9N along Lake George, between Lake George Village and Bolton Landing, the DOT announced on May 30.
Studies also show that runoff from state highways not only contaminates drinking water wells, it contributes heavily to the salt that’s ushed every year into Lake George, said Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky.
Local Officials Welcome State Initiative
“State Route 9N is an excellent site for a pilot project, for demonstrating that you can use better methods and less salt to get the same result, a safe roadway,” said Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover, whose town board recently adopted a low-salt winter roads management plan developed by former Warren County Public Works Superintendent Bill Lamy.
Conover added, “Over the years, we’ve observed New York State’s crews spreading two to three times more salt per lane mile than we municipalities do. In recent years, the state has also used salt alternatives, but how it’s applied can matter. A pilot project will help New York develop better practices.”
Walt Lender, the Lake George Association’s executive director, stated, “Route 9N is one of the main state roads around the watershed. It’s great news that the state will reduce its salt application there.”
Lender said he was also encouraged by New York State’s announcement, made in early May, that it would commit $1.9 million to repaving nine miles of State Route 9N from Bolton Landing to Hague.
“That in and of itself will cut back on salt application, because the smoother road surface will allow for easier and more complete cleaning with the segmented plow blades, which conform to a road’s surfaces,” said Lender.
Dave Wick, the executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, said the DOT has been considering a pilot project on Lake George for the past several years, almost as long as elevated salt levels have registered with lake protection groups as cause for worry.
“The DOT’s interest in reducing its use of salt is primarily financial. If it can use less salt state-wide, its cost savings will be enormous,” said Wick.
Whatever the Department of Transportation’s motive for initiating the pilot project may have been, the project is a welcome one, said Chris Navitsky.
“Here on Lake George, we’re conducting the first program in America to scienti cally monitor salt application on a watershed-wide basis; it makes no sense for the largest applicator of all not to be involved in some way,” said Navitsky.
Pilot Project Culmination of State-Local Partnership
Lake George Village Mayor Bob Blais, writing in his capacity as chairman of S.A.V.E Lake George Partnership, a coalition of local government of cials, conservation groups and researchers, made a similar point in a November, 2017 letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“We need the state DOT’s wintermaintenance crews to join us in reducing the use of salt, starting with agreeing to equip trucks with the necessary measuring devices that track salt application rates, just as the vast majority of municipal and county trucks in the basin have done over the past two years,” Blais wrote in his letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Lake George Mirror.
(Walt Lender, the Lake George Association executive director, notes that according to his organization’s “Watershed Data Atlas,” 76.2 miles of the 398.1 miles of roads within the Lake George basin are state highways.)
According to Chris Navitsky, the use of road salt has increased practically every year since the 1940s; as a consequence, the levels of salt within Lake George itself have tripled in the last thirty years.
“The more we learn about the impacts of road salt on the Lake George watershed, the more motivated we are to achieve road salt reductions in the earliest possible time frame,” said Navitsky.
Since salt also finds its way into streams and wetlands, it can affect plant and wild life.
According to Eric Siy, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George, salt not only poses risks to the environment and to human health, it has economic impacts, damaging infrastructure and vehicles.
The fact that state highways receive more than half the salt spread within the Adirondack Park, even though three quarters of the Park’s highways are county, town or village roads, appeared to surprise even Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, said Navitsky.
Seggos and other state of cials were shown the new study’s findings during a meeting in late May, one week before the announcement of the pilot project, said Navitsky.
According to state officials, the Department of Health and the DEC are currently reviewing the data about salt in groundwater and drinking wells.
State’s Pilot Project Supplements Local Initiatives
The state’s pilot project along Route 9N will supplement local initiatives to reduce salt use within the Lake George basin by 50% within the next three years.
Thanks in part to workshops sponsored by the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board, consultations with highway departments and The Fund for Lake George’s annual Salt Summits (day-long conferences for the property maintenance contractors, highway superintendents and the public employees responsible for applying de-icing agents to roads, driveways and parking lots), the use of road salt has started to drop.
“30,000 metric tons of salt are deposited every year within the Lake George basin,” said Eric Siy. “But we know we can reduce its use. We can apply salt smarter and make our roads safer.”
The Village and Town of Lake George, as well as the Towns of Bolton, Queensbury, Hague and Ticonderoga, are likely to reduce their use of salt even further as the result of new state grants.
Developed by the Lake George Park Commission’s executive director, Dave Wick, and awarded through the Capital District Regional Economic Development Council to the Village of Lake George, the grants will fund the purchase of equipment to manufacture and apply an anti-icing salt and water solution known as brine.
“It impairs the bonding of ice and road surfaces; that’s why it’s an anti-icing rather than de-icing measure,” explained Walt Lender.
According to Dave Wick, lake shore towns could reduce their salt usage by half simply by applying brine to their roads over the course of a winter.
“It’s a safe, environmentally sound alternative to rock salt,” said Wick.
Walt Lender commented, “brining is one of the best techniques available for reducing the amount of salt we use, since the solution requires only a fraction of the salt that is normally spread on roads.”
A similar initiative in a town near Utica has proven to be very successful, Wick said.
“The Highway Superintendent of New Hartford told us that he not only applies the liquid to roads before a storm arrives, as an anti-icing measure to prevent snow and ice from bonding to pavements, but as a de-icing measure as well. With the money the town has saved on salt, it’s been able to upgrade its equipment,” said Wick.
According to the grant application, the Town of Lake George’s Highway Department will become “the hub of a regional road brining collaborative.”
An industrial-sized mixer producing enough brine to serve all municipalities, funded by more than $200,000 in grants and contributions from municipalities, will be installed in the Lake George Highway Department’s garage, said Wick.
According to Wick, highway departments would also be provided with the training and equipment necessary to launch pilot programs in their communities
State Grant from Sen. Little Still Paying Dividends
This latest state grants supplement one secured by State Senator Betty Little in 2008 worth $150,000, said Wick.
That grant funded the construction of sheds for storing salt, and reducing its tendency to leach into groundwater, road temperature sensors and the development of model winter roads management plans for municipalities within the Lake George basin, including the one recently adopted by Bolton.
Organizations such as the Lake George Association and The Fund for Lake George have awarded smaller grants to Town Highway Departments to pay for new equipment and training.
Last year, for example, The Fund for Lake George awarded the Town of Lake George a $9,750 grant to purchase a new Live Edge Plow, which can accommodate a road’s uneven, sometimes erratic surface.
The LGA purchased a calibrated spreader system and temperature sensors for the Town of Lake to enable its highway crews to use salt more ef ciently on the roads they manage.
“We asked the town highway departments what they needed, whether it be equipment or training, and did our best to help them secure that,” said Lender.
Lake George’s Watershed-Wide Assessment Program
For there to be an effective, basin-wide salt reduction program, the use of brine and modern equipment such as advanced plows and road sensors must be integrated with the collection of precise data, says Eric Siy.
“We’ve out tted snow plows with state-of-the-art monitoring equipment that is tracking the use of salt mile by mile, moment by moment,” said Siy.
Siy said the monitoring equipment – “little black boxes” – are part of a three-year study by The Fund to learn how much salt is dispensed and where it is distributed. Roadside cameras have also been installed to monitor road conditions, which helps crews re ne their road-clearing methods.
“By gathering data, we can develop strategic plans based on historic application rates,” said Navitsky.
The DOT Pilot Project on Lake George
According to the Department of Transportation, its pilot project along Lake George will include: using brine for pre-storm anti-icing; double blades and live-edge plow blades to remove more snow and ice from the roads; and treated salt, which is more effective at colder temperatures, the DOT stated.
Automatic Vehicle Location technology will be placed in the trucks to help equipment operators track the volume of salt being used.
The pilot project will also evaluate the effectiveness of inexpensive measures such as removing trees to allow more light into the corridor and imposing reduced, seasonal speed limits.
The agency added: New York State will also monitor salt use during storms and evaluate the relative success of different de-icing techniques after every storm.
At the close of the season, a review of the pilot project will be analyzed to assess its effectiveness, including what effects, if any, changes in the use of salt may have had on public safety.
Whether DOT applies the practices and procedures used during the pilot project to highways across the state, it is unlikely that it would ever revert to past practices on Lake George, said Eric Siy.
“There’s no turning back, no reversing the progress we’ve made on Lake George,” said Eric Siy. “The impacts of salt on health, on the ecology and on the economy are now irrefutable. I’m confident DOT will play a leadership role in making Lake George a model for protecting our waters without sacrificing the safety of the public.”