Lake shore towns could reduce their salt usage by half simply by applying a liquid solution to roads before a storm arrives, highway superintendents, contractors and town officials were told at a workshop in Lake George in December.
Using the salt and water solution, commonly known as brine, as well as more advanced plows, especially when combined with conservation-minded practices, could reduce the amount of salt spread on local roads and highways even further, perhaps by 75%, said Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky, whose organization co-sponsored the workshop. “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.
According to Navitsky, the December workshop was an outgrowth of this past fall’s “Salt Summit” conference and was intended to provide practitioners with more detailed information about brining than was available at the summit. The featured speakers were Daniel Gilliland and Real Levasseur of Snow Ex Liquid Solutions, a manufacturer of brine mixing, storage and spreading equipment. The company has loaned the Town of Lake George’s Highway Department a brine mixer that can be used by every municipality within the watershed.
According to Gilliland, brining is an “anti-icing” rather than a “de-icing” measure. By applying the liquid to roads before a storm arrives, snow and ice is prevented from bonding to pavements. “My goal is that when we leave here today, we will agree that brining works, that it makes financial sense and that it reduces accidents,” said Gilliland, a former president of the Snow and Ice Management Association.
Gililland noted that public safety and costs have to be balanced with the need to protect water bodies from pollution traceable to road salt. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to destroy our water supplies,” said Gilliland. “Every town around Lake George should be cutting its salt use. If you’re not doing that, in ten years, you’ll wish you had.”
According to Chris Navitsky, “Brining uses only a fraction of the road salt typically applied while producing better results. As a result of this workshop, local municipalities have the tools and information they need to begin incorporating salt brining into their winter road maintenance plans.” Navitsky said salt levels in Lake George have tripled since 1980 and have been found to be even higher in streams flowing into Lake George.
Finkle Brook, in the Town of Bolton, is one of those streams. Salt levels there in are 200 times higher than normal. Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover said his town is interested in experimenting with brine on roads within the Finkle Brook watershed to slow the accumulation of salt in groundwater, the brook and ultimately Lake George. “It will be a pilot project, but we will be leading the way,” said Conover.
Similar pilot projects will become feasible once the specialized equipment is purchased, said David Decker, the executive director of the Lake George Watershed Coalition. “We are looking to procure one or more salt brine dispensing component systems that would be outfitted on existing rolling stock. The equipment would be available for use by all the Watershed Coalition towns,” said Decker.
The Town of Lake George is also a community “leading by example,” said Supervisor Dennis Dickinson. Dickinson said his Town has not only launched an initiative that includes the use of brine; it has also purchased a new Live-Edge Plow with the assistance of The Fund for Lake George. “The Fund’s generous $9,750 grant enables the Town of Lake George to start transitioning to equipment that keeps both our roads and our Lake safe,” said Dickinson.
According to Chris Navitsky, the Town of Hague, which has used Live-Edge Plows on the road over Tongue Mountain, has reported that its highway department crews now make fewer trips and apply less salt while maintaining safe, bare roads. “The town’s’ use of Live Edge Plows helps show others what it takes to reduce the use of road salt and the rewards of doing so,” said Navitsky.
According to Ron Conover, the municipalities’ efforts to reduce the use of road salt is one more example of their role in protecting the environment. “As with Lake George’s model efforts to control Aquatic Invasive Species, our towns are having a real impact on snow and ice removal policies everywhere,” said Supervisor Conover.
Photos from above: Inspecting a brine mixer in the Town of Lake George’s Highway garage; and Plowing on Tongue Mountain.
A version of this article first appeared on the Lake George Mirror Magazine.