“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.