Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fund: Lake George Salt Levels Can Be Cut 40%

Snowplow (Lake George Mirror file photo)The salt in Lake George would decrease by 40% over a ten-year period if highway departments reduce its use now, by half, says Dr. Jeff Short, a science advisor to The Fund for Lake George.

“Any actions we take will be apparent almost immediately,” said Short.  “If we cap loading now and then dial down, the results will be clear. So the incentive for taking action is huge.”

The Fund for Lake George is crafting a strategy to achieve that goal, said Eric Siy, The Fund’s executive director.

“We will ensure that this project gets off the ground,” said Siy. “We want Lake George to be a model for salt reduction, just as we have helped make Lake George a model for the control of invasive species.”

Siy said The Fund has budgeted $235,000 this year for the project, including $25,000 for scientific research.

Seven municipalities will receive $25,000 each to acquire better equipment and de-icing agents that can be substituted for salt.

To be eligible for a grant, a municipality’s representatives must sign a Memorandum of Understanding, drafted and circulated by The Fund, that pledges all parties “to work in good faith to create an effective program to reduce the levels of salt application surrounding Lake George.”

“We need a basin-wide approach,” said Siy, explaining why The Fund was eliciting public support from local governments.

A similar strategy was successful in building broadly based support for a mandatory boat inspection program, he said.

“Salt is different from invasives, but it’s the same lake, and the threat is of the same kind, to both water quality and the economy. We already know the consequences of declining water quality to the economy,” said Siy.

New York’s Department of Transportation, which is responsible for de-icing state highways within the basin, will also be asked to sign the MOU, said Siy.

“We’re working toward serious changes in the business of road de-icing,” said Siy. “Governor Cuomo’s staff has told me that the state is keenly interested in what we can achieve.”

According to Jeff Short, The Fund’s Thirty Year study of the lake, conducted by the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, showed that salt levels have tripled since 1980.  The consequences of those rising levels are already apparent.

“Salt levels are starting to influence how water moves within the lake, and because some freshwater organisms are sensitive to chloride, salt can also  influence the make-up of microscopic plants and animals that support fish. These developments raise serious concerns,” said Short.

Short emphasized that “Lake George is not yet at the tipping point; we’re at the threshold. We have ample opportunity to repair the damage.”

Thus, while the levels of salt in Lake George are far higher than those found in undeveloped watersheds in the Adirondacks, they are not as high as those found in 84% of urban streams analyzed by the US Geological Survey.

According to the USGS, which published its findings late last year,  “Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.”

But, Short warns, “Allowing salt levels to continue to increase will risk crossing ecological tipping points that result in abrupt and possibly irreversible changes in how the lake functions.”

Reducing the levels of salt in Lake George by 40% should not be a difficult task, said Short.

“There are three avenues to achieve that: highway departments can be more judicious in their use of salt; they can use de-icing products with less salt; and it can be applied better. It’s a mix of measures. And we should consider no-salt zones,” said Short.

According to Siy, Short will research alternatives to road salt and current application practices that will reduce the threats to the lake’s water quality while, at the same time, maintaining public safety.

“We also have to develop a baseline understanding of the sources and locations of the greatest salt loading,” said Siy.  “As of now, there’s no clearing house for information about how salt is used.”

Later this year, representatives of local governments and state agencies will be invited to attend a meeting convened by The Fund called “Salt: Halting the Acid Rain of Our Time.” Out of that meeting, a basin-wide approach to achieving the 40% reduction in  salt use will emerge, said Siy.

Related Stories

Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

2 Responses

  1. Charlie S says:

    ““Allowing salt levels to continue to increase will risk crossing ecological tipping points that result in abrupt and possibly irreversible changes…..”

    This issue should have been brought up a long time ago.The reason it hasn’t been is because ecology is not of great significance to this society or to its leaders who wholly bend towards where the money flows,which is generally towards other than the preservation of ecosystems. Cutting salt levels 40% isn’t good enough Anthony unless the only reason for it is to slow down (not stop) the ultimate effect of its use which is a slow death of every thing it comes in contact with. To me spreading salt on roads is just an extension of our violence against nature.
    It’s the same thing as sprinkling salt from a salt shaker over a slug which will then curl up and die a miserable death immediately after coming in contact with it.

  2. AG Gabriels says:

    A 40% reduction in salt usage – from what level to what level – 20,000 tons per year to 6,000; 8,000 down to 4,800 tons? At $65/ ton that’s equivalent to $200,000 to $250,000 per year basin-wide. The standard suggests a large municipal or governmental inefficiency in the use of road salt on the 209 of local road miles and the 77 road miles of State roads in the watershed. That is certainly worthy of investigation and greater clarity. Conserving taxpayers funds is good government.

    However, even if a significant reduction were implemented immediately, any drop off in lake concentrations of chlorides will take some time to manifest itself. The tripling of chlorides has been a gradual upward slope over the past 30 years, even though this community has been applying the same average amount of salt on the same amount of roads each year – relatively speaking. While there are difference in the number and intensity of storm events each year, the municipal budgets do not vary significantly nor do the highway departments alter historical practices. The same magnitudes of salt are applied year after year.

    If the chloride concentration has been gradual in response to a constant input, any reduction in use will only be seen in a gradual decline in the lake itself. There is no reason to anticipate major corrections in one direction if we haven’t seen significant jumps with increased salt usage. The graphs do not indicate jumps when a municipality shifts from sand/salt mixture to 100% salt doubling the local input. In addition to the direct spring snow melt, residual concentrations of chlorides ions in the soils or groundwater are main unknown, but a long tern, slow moving source of additional ions. The historic uncovered salt piles still impact downstream receiving waters and will for some unknown and unstudied time. Bolton’s salt pile from 1998 until the construction of its first salt storage shed in 2008 represents one such source. If uncovered piles of salt lose 15-20% efficacy, would it be reasonable to anticipate a noticeable lessening of salt in Finkle Brook over the past four years and into the future?

    If the watershed is using some average amount of salt per year and some ,large fraction of that salt flows out of the basin to Lake Champlain, some equilibrium should be reached at some time. Do we reach a salt plateau before we reach some ecological tipping point? Great questions lie ahead while we all wonder and work to protect our lake.

    AG Gabriels

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox