For years, an estimated 30,000 metric tons of road salt have been applied in the Lake George basin, enough salt to fill 300 rail cars or a train three miles long, every year. As a result, salt concentrations have risen in the Lake, in surrounding streams–where spiking salt levels can be toxic to aquatic life–and in groundwater that supplies drinking water wells. With underwriting by The FUND, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institutes’ nearly four decades of monitoring salt concentrations documents this dangerous trend, confirmed by new analysis from the Jefferson Project.
Projections warn that without major reductions in salt use, the natural balance of water circulation and food web composition are at serious risk. Public health is also at risk as increasing sodium levels adversely affect drinking water drawn from the Lake.
The FUND's science-guided, investment-driven model is reducing road salt use to safe levels.
Empowering Our Partners
We started by presenting the threat of rising salt levels to Lake George municipalities and gained their formal commitments to reduce road salt use. Basinwide agreement is producing a change in the culture of salt application through hands-on training of local highway departments and their plow truck drivers, led by our partner contractors WIT Advisers, LLC and Viaesys, Inc. By measuring salt application rates mile-by-mile and storm-by-storm we’re equipping drivers with the information they need to apply salt smarter.
Employing Science to Solve the Problem
Having conducted the most extensive salt application study for an entire watershed anywhere in the world, we are using this information to equip highway departments with leading innovations for reducing salt use while ensuring roads are safe. These include the use of brine, a saltwater solution that requires a fraction of the salt while actually improving performance. When coupled with Live-Edge plows, that clear roads closer to their surfaces, the improvements are dramatic. We are recognizing commitments to these best practices through the SWiM (Sustainable Winter Management) Certification Program of WIT Advisers. To date, Warren County and the Towns of Lake George and Hague have been certified, leading the way for others to do the same. Our annual Salt Summits are bringing together hundreds of public and private practitioners along with experts in the field and sponsoring companies to learn about latest progress, techniques, and technologies. We're hosting our 6th Summit this fall, attracting ever bigger numbers from an expanding region eager for answers.
Investing in Success
Since 2015, The FUND has invested over $550,000 in reducing road salt use. This includes investments in training, application rate assessment, and other studies informing salt reduction. Investments by The FUND also include financial support for Live-Edge plows and brining equipment. In fact, to make Live-Edge plows more affordable to towns in the Lake George basin, we are working with the manufacturer Metal Pless as a local dealer, saving towns money on each purchase.
SWIM Certified municipalities are reducing road salt use by as much as 50% and improving road safety. Moreover, as towns apply significantly less salt, they are saving many thousands of dollars, benefiting local budgets and the Lake. Progress at the local level has compelled New York State DOT to implement salt reduction measures of their own, the results of which are being monitored by research of the Lake George Waterkeeper, an integral program of The FUND. Perhaps as important as salt reduction itself is the fact that plow drivers have become our best spokespeople for reducing the use, presenting the progress of their work at Salt Summits and other events, the clearest evidence of changing a longstanding culture of winter road maintenance that makes salt reduction a priority, now and for generations to come.