Sunday, November 26, 2017

Research: Road Salt Interrupts Turnover of Mirror Lake

road salt on mirror lake

Research and monitoring work on Mirror Lake over the past two and half years by the Ausable River Association has yielded some alarming results.

Association Science and Stewardship Director, Dr. Brendan Wiltse, recently presented his research work at the Mirror Lake Water Quality Workshop. Here are a few key findings he presented:

  • Mirror Lake’s surface water chloride concentration is about 40 mg/L. This puts it in the 97th percentile for lakes studied by the Adirondack Watershed Institute; that’s 160-times higher than the median concentration for Adirondack lakes not impacted by road salt.
  • Chloride accumulates at the bottom of Mirror Lake. Concentrations can be as high as 120 mg/L.
  • The build up of chloride at the lake bottom is contributing the the lack of spring turnover.
  • The lack of spring turnover is resulting in lower dissolved oxygen concentrations in the deeper waters during the spring, summer, and fall. This is potentially a threat to cold water fish and other benthic organisms.
  • Mirror Lake is likely the most impacted lake in the Adirondacks from road salt.

To watch Brendan’s talk on the impact of road salt on Mirror Lake, click here.

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25 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    You should see this new contraption they have for laying salt on 81. A salt truck pulls a trailer with a tank of liquid salt and behind that is another trailer at a diagonal that puts salt on both lanes at the same time. It is a salt machine.

    This thing was dumping salt when it was in the upper 40’s with forecast lows above freezing.

  2. Scott says:

    Nowadays too many people want the govt to control everything and want the govt to provide everything…gone are the days when individuals were responsible and when everyone put snow tires on their car and departed earlier and drove slower when it snowed, now it is the govt fault if you drive too fast with all season tires on snowy roads and you crash.

    • John Warren says:

      Nowadays too many people are just afraid of change and want to explain it away with government conspiracies, or by blaming their neighbors.

    • Boreas says:

      What would winter tourism look like if people from out of the area were afraid to drive anywhere – or ended up crashing? That is an unfortunate reality in our area. The road salt isn’t just for local residents who can learn to drive on snow/ice – it is also for visitors who may rarely see snow. We all hate salt, but some salt usage seems to be a necessary evil.

      • John Warren says:

        You mistakenly assume that reducing salt use must lead to “people from out of the area… afraid to drive anywhere” or ending up crashing – that sounds an awful lot like every other resistance to change we’ve ever heard about anything new.

        Are you also opposed to self driving cars, or have you convinced yourself they are not feasible? That would be a funny commentary on your reasoning.

        • M.P. Heller says:

          Geez John. You have excoriated nearly every comment in nearly every story this morning. What gives? Bad day?? Someone steal your leftover Thanksgiving desserts??? Get a grip man.

        • Boreas says:


          Not against change at all as long as it works. I was responding to Scott’s comment suggesting we simply need to learn to drive in snow. If we want visitors from out of the area, the roads need to be safe. Seems pretty obvious to me. They use a lot of sand down my way, but it is hell on trout streams.

          • Scott says:

            I remember when I got my driver license state route 30 in Franklin County was plowed and only sanded and that was plenty good. I only remember over by Lake Placid and the Northway being salted. My first car was only rear wheel drive and though I got stuck I never went off the road. My county and town roads are still only sanded and it is still fine. I agree people from areas without snow may find snow covered roads troubling. I disagree every time environmental discussions are debated in terms of economic benefits or tourism.

            • Boreas says:


              I grew up in the rural snow belt of PA where cinders (from coal-fired steel furnaces) were used instead of sand. Locals used snow tires and chains with a few hundred pounds of weight in the trunk. The difference was we did not live in an area that tried to attract tourists from out of the area in winter. How would you separate environmental discussions in Lake Placid from economic or tourism issues?

              • Scott says:

                In some places like Lake Placid the tourism dollars seems like the priority, I think in some cases the environmental impact should be the main consideration. There are cases where I think there can be a compromise, like allowing vehicle or bicycle use on existing roads. Where it comes to chemicals and real environmental harm, there shouldn’t be the same compromise for tourism. The chemicals use to keep vegetation growing on the remsen-placid corridor come to mind. The discussions almost always seem to go to tourism and economic impact and there are times protecting the environment is more important.

                • Boreas says:


                  I agree absolutely! The environment doesn’t seem to be the political imperative it was a just few decades ago.

      • Bill D. says:

        It might look like Winter tourism in VT.
        Over there, they use less salt.
        And their Winter tourism biz seems OK.
        Winter tourists to VT & Adks presumably are seeking a winter experience, something different from their routines.
        Must that experience be “sanitized” like some mall parking lot?

  3. James Marco says:

    Salt is a major problem throughout NY. There are other ways to handle dangerous roads due to snow and ice. Salt is just one of the cheapest options. Construction techniques can be utilized that would minimize the need for chemically enhanced road surfaces. For example placing a thermo tube hurried 8″ below a road surface will keep the surface 30F warmer. Using heat conducting materials during construction will allow greater heat movement from surrounding geography. And so on… It is more expensive to install, yes. But it is installed once. You cut back on the amount of salt needed forever after (at least for the lifetime of the road.) And such construction would pay for itself in 30 years…and help with overall car maintenance/replacement due to rust….

  4. Keith Gorgas says:

    Less Salt, More Pepper….Sand, cinders, etc. More and more entities are using straight salt and no sand or grit. Make it clean up easier, but far worse on the environment, on cars AND…..salt when it’s first put down on snow forms a slick non cohesive mix that can make driving extra treacherous. We should cut our salt use in the Adks by at least 75%

  5. adkDreamer says:

    Hmmm. What about the other half of the salt molecule: Sodium. Is there any reason to believe that a case can be made that there exists a potential increase in the formation of sodium hydroxide when higher concentrations of salt enter a water body?

    • Boreas says:


      NaCl will dissociate (separate into Na and Cl ions) when entering any water body. If too much enters(high concentrations), NaCl will re-form crystals and precipitate onto the bottom. That is nearly impossible in a large water body, but temperature and pressure have an effect, as well as other ions in the soup. But if the lake evaporates the ion concentration increases and salt could precipitate out as crystals – as in a dry salt lake.

      • adkDreamer says:

        Thanks Boreas. But what about the free Na (sodium)? Is there any chance that the sodium ions do anything bad like lowering pH or adding additional positive charge? I am not a chemist at all so this is a new topic for me.

        • Boreas says:

          Oh, I see what you mean. Both ions will contribute to “salination”, causing an increase in density which is why it has a tendency to sink and stratify. It is actually a miniature model for what contributes to deep ocean currents by creating areas of high salinity creating a gradient between fresh water and salt water. But in a small, very deep lake, the currents are stifled so you tend to get stratification instead. I don’t believe either sodium or chloride ions themselves are necessarily poisons at these concentrations, but Cl ion concentrations are just a convenient way of measuring and monitoring salinity – just like H ions are a way to measure acidity. At least that is how I understand it. Chemistry wasn’t my strong point in school…

          • adkDreamer says:

            Thanks Boreas. I couldn’t find anything online, at least they way I searched for it, that speaks to the resultant ions in water.

      • Scott says:

        Do you know anything about magnesium chloride used by some of the western States ? I heard magnesium chloride is better for the environment.

        • Boreas says:


          I do know other types of salts are either mixed with NaCl or used exclusively in other areas of the country with good results. The downside is they tend to be more expensive. And in the particular case of Mirror Lake turnover, the type of salt wouldn’t matter a great deal as salination stratification would still occur with the same usage amounts – just with different positive ions. As far as being “better for the environment”, toxicity and salination would be a very complicated discussion depending on the particular environment type being discussed. But salt added to the roads by the ton will always have some negative environmental impact. Even sand has negative impacts.

          There is no perfect chemical de-icer. It isn’t so much the type of salt being used, it is the amount. Some types of salts melt ice better with less salt being used. Some salts work better at lower temperatures. Some work better in combination with other salts or compounds. It is all quite complicated, but as long as NaCl is so cheap and abundant it will always be a significant player.

  6. Paul says:

    One thing we could do pretty easily to maybe help with a problem like this is to “pile” snow upland and away from water sources. The way we pile it over by the fire house in Placid so that it can easily melt into the brook seems like maybe a bad idea. Along route 86 in Saranac Lake and in many other places we basically plow all the snow and the salt into the water. I wonder how much salt in Mirror Lake is not leaching into the lake but is plowed or dumped into the lake?

  7. Davis Moquin says:

    Salt dumping by state trucks is still nothing less than flagrant in the Northern Essex and southern Clinton county area. It’s not that we shouldn’t appreciate the safety factor these folks deliver, but salting bare breakdown lanes after the storms have passed is a little much. Excessive salting is just so damaging and costly in many ways. Hopefully the superindtendants can begin to address this.

  8. Dean Bianco says:

    This abuse goes unchecked. It will be very difficult to end the extreme excess use of road salt in NYS unless the governor demands that the head of the NYSDOT adapts a low-salt diet for our roadways. Another fly in the salt lick is the corrupt contracts between the NYSDOT and the NYS-based salt mine industry based near Syracuse. This needs investigating by journalists who are worth their salt.

  9. Sabin says:

    Many proponents of salt fear the economic ramifications of potentially unsafe driving conditions… But what will the economic ramifications of salt use look like 20 years from now (if current salt usage is sustained)? The wilderness and wildlife drive tourism. The ruination of the ecosystem will directly result in the ruination of the Adirondacks’ tourism industry. In the long-term, cutting salt usage as much as possible should be in everyone’s best interest.

    In places on 90, so much salt has leeched into the water table that the water has become toxic, killing cattle and desiccating farmland. I would hate to see the same happen to NY’s greatest treasure.

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