Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky has called road salt “the acid rain of our time.”
Now, a newly-completed study of Adirondack wells claims that most wells that receive runoff from state roads are contaminated with salt.
The study conducted by the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute comes on the heels of an earlier study that argued that 84% of the contamination of surface waters by road salting could be attributed to state practices.
The study sampled nearly 400 private wells from across the Adirondack Park. The wells were divided into categories based on whether they received no road runoff, local road runoff, or state road runoff. Sodium levels in more than half of the wells receiving state road runoff exceeded New York State’s water quality guideline of 20 ppm (compared to 10% of wells that receive local road runoff). Chloride levels in 25% of wells that receive state road runoff exceeded the water quality guideline of 250 ppm, while none of the wells that receive local road runoff exceeded that level.
New York State’s Department of Transportation relies mainly on pure road salt (sodium chloride) for winter road maintenance, using more than any other state. Local crews mainly use abrasives, like sand, with a smaller amount of salt to keep the sand from clumping.
In a statement sent to the press, well study participant Kirk Peterson said “The contamination of our well with road salt has cost us thousands of dollars in ruined appliances and corroded pipes. We can’t operate a dishwasher and have to replace faucets and other plumbing fixtures regularly because of corrosion caused by the salt. We’ve also had to replace most of our copper pipes and have been buying water to drink because of the adverse impact on our health. And now we worry about being unable to sell our house. We will hold the state fully responsible for these problems.”
Scientists, local officials, community organizations, and citizen activists has been pressuring the state for change to their salt practices for years. It’s believed that the NYS Department of Transportation (DOT) maintains about 25% of the Adirondack road network.
DOT recently began two pilot programs in the Adirondacks to reduce the application of road salt, at Mirror Lake and Lake George. The Mirror Lake project include 16-miles along State Route 86 from Old Military Road through North Elba and Wilmington and the Village of Lake Placid. The pilot program at Lake George spans about 17 miles of Route 9N from the Village to the Town of Bolton.
In addition, DOT, DEC and the Department of Health have established a working group, which includes participating municipalities, and organizations such as AdkAction and the Lake George Waterkeeper, to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot programs.
Brittany Christensen, Executive Director of AdkAction, a non-profit that has been advocating for a reduction in the use of road salt since 2010, wants the state to move faster.
“While we appreciate being invited to participate in the strategic working group and acknowledge that the pilots in Lake George and Lake Placid are a step in the right direction, we must insist that the state take a stronger stance to protect Adirondack waters,” a statement issued by Christensen said.
“Based on the study, more than half of private wells located along state roads are likely contaminated with road salt, and we want the state to reexamine its entire winter road maintenance protocol and use the entire Adirondack Park as a pilot area for statewide reduction.”
The salt study was funded by AdkAction, The FUND for Lake George, and Paul Smiths College Adirondack Watershed Institute.
Photo courtesy Phil Romans.