Monday, November 6, 2023

Salt study receives mixed results

low salt road sign

When it comes to reducing road salt use in the Adirondack Park, a long-awaited government report published this fall leaned heavily on the use of pilot projects to test reduction strategies.

Fortunately, the state won’t be starting from scratch when it builds those pilots. It has had pilots running for years around Lake George and in Essex and Herkimer counties.

Unfortunately, the results are in from a five-year-long independent study of the Lake George pilot, and those results are… mixed.

Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky and researchers Jim Sutherland and Brea Arvidson since 2018 monitored chloride and water flows in four tributaries to Lake George, evaluating the effects of road salt use on the streams. They obtained road salt data from the Department of Transportation (after multiple FOIL requests and over a year of delay).

The researchers found that while state road crews reduced the rate of salt dropped per lane mile, they increased the number of salting trips more than enough to offset the reduced rates.

“Each time the truck went out, they were putting down less salt; however, from their own records, they were going out two to three times as often,” Navitsky said.

A DOT spokesperson said weather conditions accounted for the increased number of salting trips. But the researchers said it was not clear from snowpack and precipitation data that the increased trips were driven by weather alone, and they recommended DOT better track weather severity in its own data.

The agency did not respond to questions about how it evaluated the Lake George project, whether it could provide documentation of that review or how it planned to evaluate the new pilot projects.

Check out the story and the 137-page study for yourself.

Infrastructure $$$

State agencies earlier this month released two key documents listing clean water infrastructure projects in line for state and federal funding this year. The so-called intended use plans outline local projects set to receive money from revolving funds that support wastewater treatment and drinking water systems.

Not all projects listed will receive funding, but if you want a project to be funded, it better be listed.

There’s a lot of information in the listings, but I focused on Adirondack projects included in a section for funding from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The federal money is just now starting to make its way into local communities. Lake Placid, Dannemora, Saranac Lake and Ticonderoga could all be seeing a piece of it soon.

Those communities all have projects rated highly and included on lists specifically targeting the federal support. Ticonderoga is seeking help for a $14 million effort to improve its surface water treatment and resolve a long-running violation of drinking water standards.

Saranac Lake hopes to get funding for over $34 million in upgrades to increase capacity at the village’s wastewater treatment plant. Lake Placid is eyeing around $6.2 million in upgrades to its wastewater treatment, and Dannemora seeks $4.5 million for similar work.

Photo at top: A road sign on the northern end of a low salt pilot area on Route 9N along Lake George. Photo by Zachary Matson

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.


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6 Responses

  1. Alan West says:

    How long must the governor, DEC, and DOT drag their feet on this issue? Years go by and all we get is another study. Instead of a study we need positive action.If we can send a man to the moon we certainly can find an alternative to rock salt.I’m starting to wonder if some palms are getting greased.

  2. Todd Eastman says:

    How much money is being spent for contracts between the salt industry and local and state governments?

    Somebody’s making mint with salt…😎

    • Boreas says:

      Todd,

      I imagine some of those contracts are lucrative. However, I don’t have faith that the overall need for salt in NYS, or even the Adirondacks, will diminish significantly. Especially if crews just make more frequent trips! Unfortunately, I feel the “bare road” expectation is hard-wired in both crews and motorists now. Even sand has its own environmental impacts. Sorry if I am being a Negative Nellie.

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