Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Where’s the road salt report?


Keeping roads cleared and water clean is no easy feat in the Adirondacks. What will a new report say about how to solve the issue? Almanack file photo

The Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force held its first meeting a year ago this month — about two years after state lawmakers first adopted legislation mandating its creation.

We are still waiting on the panel’s first report outlining the salt pollution problem in the Adirondack Park and proposing solutions to minimize it. But the tea leaves are finally suggesting a report could be coming soon.

Task force members met last week to go over final tweaks and revisions. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation are leading the task force and working through the final details.

The report is expected to include more pilot programs to study salt reduction strategies, as well as recommendations for funding and other potential legislation. I will be paying close attention to what, if anything, can ensure the agencies act on the task force’s proposals.

The timing of the report may catch the tail end of the snow season and the state budget season, so it will be important to keep attention on the salt issue as we turn to spring and summer concerns.

A Lake Champlain Plan

DEC last week did release a new watershed plan to limit phosphorus loading into Lake ChamplainPhosphorus for decades has been of particular concern in Lake Champlain, where elevated nutrient levels could be contributing to harmful algal blooms.

While Vermont contributes a much higher volume of phosphorus to the lake, farms, communities and even the forests in New York are adding to the lake’s phosphorus levels. The DEC plan, which is open for public comment through March 17, notes that some New York testing sites still exceed phosphorus targets and provides a good overview of what is driving phosphorus loading in New York. The plan also lists programs aimed at mitigating phosphorus runoff, like erosion control and environmental agricultural practices.


This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

6 Responses

  1. Todd Eastman says:

    Can we bill the state for the damages to our vehicles due the the liberal use of road salt?

    How about poisoned wells?

    Look at the lucrative contracts between the state, counties, towns, and villages, and the salt firms.

  2. Tim says:

    More studies, more blah, blah.

    • Todd Miller says:

      I agree with you, Tim, especially in light that the Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI) at Paul Smiths still hasn’t produced their peer-reviewed report on salt contamination of drinking water wells that was conducted in 2019! The public needs to read this report in order to decide whether to support (or not) any initiatives proposed by the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force. The co-sponsors of the study such as ADK Action should put pressure on the AWI to get a peer-reviewed report published and released. Otherwise, it is putting the cart before the horse.

  3. Bill Keller says:

    It took two years for the ” salt reduction task force” to hold a meeting. The report is expected to include more pilot programs to study salt reduction strategies. In other words, the committee that studies salt reduction will continue to study salt reduction. Goggle road salt reduction and there are methods like these: https://www.caryinstitute.org/news-insights/guide/road-salt-tips-municipalities-highway-departments-and-winter-maintenance-staff But our politicians always try to reinvent the wheel.

  4. Boreas says:

    Studies, shmudies – you can’t study problems away. You eventually have to act. We studied climate change way too long rather than putting on our big-boy pants and acting responsibly. We studied the ozone-layer destruction for a short period of time and acted globally (for the most part), and turned the destruction around by banning just a few compounds. The ozone layer is slowly recovering.

    Do we know that salts can be toxic and detrimental to humans and the environment? Yes. Do we know that this is exacerbated by thin, mineral soils, steep gradients, numerous sensitive water bodies, and reliance on individual household wells? Yes.

    Eventually, federal, state, county, municipal entities will need to address the issue – especially in sensitive areas that we know are more prone to toxicity and damage from road salt over-use. Existing infrastructure dollars should be able to at least get the ball rolling in the right direction before the problem is studied to death. Indeed, the first step – and perhaps the most difficult step – is ameliorating liability concerns for DOTs around the state and country.

    Next, educating motorists that speed limits are “weather permitting” and driving in winter conditions is hazardous and should be avoided when possible. Many, if not most vehicles sold today have the option of 4WD/AWD. Studded snow tires are used extensively N of the border. Require them in certain counties where salt usage is reduced. Offer state rebates paid for in part by reduced-salt savings (materials and labor) in those counties. Why can’t our representatives show us a plan or two BEFORE the study is completed – just to get the TOUGH conversations started?

  5. Paul says:

    Avoiding driving in winter conditions is usually not possible in the adirondacks in the winter time. At least if you want to go to work or school…

    Probably can’t show us the plan because they don’t have plan. There may be no feasible alternative at this time?

    Not salting an leaving the roads dangerous is a hard pill for DOT to swallow, since keeping us safe is there job.

    It’s easy for folks to sit here and criticise.

    “We are still waiting on the panel’s first report outlining the salt pollution problem in the Adirondack Park and proposing solutions to minimize it.”

    Doesn’t even look like they fully understand the problem yet.

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