A coalition of Adirondack conservationists is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign into law a bi-partisan bill that would help reduce road salt pollution and protect drinking water in the Adirondack Park.
The legislation creates an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Program. If approved by the Governor, the new law would establish a salt-reduction pilot program from October 2021 through 2024 to test alternative measures already shown to work better and cost less than current winter road maintenance practices. Highway safety would remain the top priority.
New York State has applied millions of tons of road salt to the park’s highways since it began using salt in 1980.
The Adirondack Park contains more than 11,000 lakes and ponds, and more than 30,000 miles of rivers, brook and streams. It is the source of most of the state’s major rivers.
The park’s hard bedrock, thin soils and steep slopes make it the place where road salt damage – like acid rain damage — is likely to appear first and cause the most harm. Lessons learned in the Adirondacks can be applied statewide in the years ahead, Janeway said.
The bill was passed in honor of the late Randy Preston, who served as Wilmington Town Supervisor until his untimely death from brain cancer one year ago. Preston helped to rally local government support for protecting the park’s drinking water, lakes and rivers from road salt.
What leaders are saying
“Salt-contaminated drinking water is a serious public health concern,” said Brittany Christenson of AdkAction, a regional project-driven nonprofit that has been pressing for a reduction in road salt pollution for nearly a decade. “When it strikes a private well, it becomes a hazard for people with high blood pressure and other health conditions. Salty water can become a costly crisis for local families. They need to buy bottled water and replace appliances, pipes, and even drill new wells. As salt contamination spreads, it can affect entire community water supplies. It has already spread too far.”
“Protect the Adirondacks has been studying water quality in lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park for more than 20 years and in that time we’ve watched chloride and sodium levels go up and up,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. “Governor Cuomo knows all about flattening curves, so we urge him to sign this legislation to help develop a regional plan to reduce and eliminate road salt pollution to protect Adirondack lakes and ponds and the property of local residents.”
“The Adirondack Park’s abundant supply of fresh water is at risk as is the health of our lakes, rivers and wildlife,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “Salty lakes and salty wells are bad news and something that won’t just go away overnight when we stop using salt. We can’t allow this damage to continue unabated.”
“Direct runoff from road salt is inhibiting spring turnover in Mirror Lake, an essential process that redistributes oxygen throughout lake waters,” said Kelley Tucker of the Ausable River Association. “Mirror Lake is one of only nine lakes in the United States to have an interruption in lake-turnover documented in the scientific literature. It’s a significant health threat to the lake, increasing water temperature, reducing oxygen, and directly threatening multiple species, including the iconic lake trout population.”
“For three decades the Adirondack Park Agency has invited NYS DOT to present on how to reduce the amount of road salt applied each winter,” said David H. Gibson, managing partner in Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. “Each time, DOT explains that alternatives to road salt and new application methods were constantly being tested on short sections of state roads. That limited approach has resulted in widespread contamination of water supplies. As a matter of Park policy and public health, this legislation is sorely needed.”
The bill (S.8663-A/A.8767-A) was sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay. The bill passed the Assembly on July 20.
According to the bill:
“The Task Force report and recommendations shall be due September 1, 2021. The task force shall recommend Adirondack state road winter maintenance practices to remediate salt contamination of our surface and ground waters.
“The Adirondack Road Salt Task Force recommendations for updated levels of service, best management practices, and road salt reduction targets shall guide the Departments of Transportation, Health, and Environmental Conservation in measurably reducing sodium and chloride levels in both surface and ground waters.”
A state highway truck dumps road salt in Tupper Lake. Photo by Mike Lynch