Thursday, January 18, 2024

Salt solutions from outside New York

A highway truck heads along Route 9N in Upper Jay near the East Branch of the Ausable River.

Seeking solutions:

New York uses more road salt than any state in the country. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only state grappling with the perennial challenge of keeping roads safe while minimizing damage to critical water resources.

For our current issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine, I scoured midwestern states for lessons that could inform debates in the Adirondack Park about how best to control road salt pollution.

Here’s an overview of what I found:

  • Regulate: Despite a longstanding federal recommendation, New York has never adopted a chloride standard for aquatic environments. While many of the standards I found in other state were well above levels considered healthy for lake systems, those rules were driving more formalized adoption of best practices than we have seen in New York. State officials have suggested a chloride standards is in the works in New York.

  • Educate: Just like in the Adirondacks, other regions also emphasize the importance of educating the public about both the risks of road salt and what to expect when communities aim to reduce its use. Wisconsin Salt Wise employs a single full-time staffer, but she works with local watershed groups and other organizations to sample waterbodies and spread word on minimizing salt use.
  • Litigate (less): One legislative idea gaining traction in other state was first modeled in New Hampshire: control liability for slip and fall lawsuits. If private salt applicators undergo training in best practices and report salt use to a state agency, that applicator and the private businesses that employ them are shielded from lawsuits over injuries sustained from winter conditions. The Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force suggested something similar could be adopted in New York and included New Hampshire’s legislative text in an appendix to its September report.
  • Litigate (more): Fewer lawsuits could help control some incentives that drive excess salt use, but lawsuits could still be a path to forcing changes to government salting practices. The legal bars are tough to clear, but a Marquette law professor outlined for me a handful of legal strategies that could help check instances of improper salt use.

We will discuss these ideas and more at our Feb. 15 discussion of road salt at the Wild Center. RSVP here.

Trout Power volunteer holds a brook trout.

Trout Power volunteer shows off a brook trout caught near Great Camp Sagamore, where researchers are studying native brook trout strains. Photo provided by Chris Murphy.

Trout troubles:

Fisheries scientists with Cornell University released a new study earlier this month documenting a disturbing decline in suitable summertime brook trout habitat throughout the Adirondack Park.

The beloved cold-water fish species is increasingly squeezed during stressful summer months, when warming surface waters and deoxygenated lower waters compress viable habitat in all but a small portion of Adirondack lakes.

The problem is also complicated by the region’s recovery from acid rain. As water acidity has diminished, its ability to absorb dissolved organic material has increased. That effect – often likened to letting a teabag of forest floor duff steep in the water – is causing Adirondack water to grow increasingly brown. The browning, according to researchers, is concentrating heating at the top of the lake and exacerbating oxygen loss deeper down.

The combination could be lethal to brook trout and Atlantic salmon, and the Cornell researchers estimated just 5% of Adirondack lakes could maintain sufficient habitat in the future.

One key takeaway from the study is that the deep lakes are most buffered against the risk of habitat loss and are of critical conservation importance.

View of the Saranac River through a chain link fence

The Saranac River from a pedestrian bridge in Plattsburgh. Photo by Zachary Matson.

Photo at top: A highway truck heads along Route 9N in Upper Jay near the East Branch of the Ausable River. Photo courtesy of Brendan Wiltse.

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.


12 Responses

  1. Rob says:

    Like the research and digging you are doing in this!!

  2. Todd Eastman says:

    Publish the names of the CEOs that run the firms that hold the salt contracts for NYS and their profits…

    … daylight will help the state more than salt…😎

    • JohnL says:

      Yeah right. So you and your ‘Anti-Salties’ can DOXX them and scare their kids. Great idea. You’ve got legislators, a super majority of D’s, as a matter of fact. Talk to them and get laws changed. That’s how it’s done in this country. Not sure how it’s done, however, in the People’s Republic of New York.

  3. Tom Paine says:

    Can we also have the names of the NYS public employees in the NYSDOT and office of general services that are involved with the purchase of the salt for NYS? Can we alo have the names of all the attorneys that represent NYS at these agencies? Let’s get daylight everywhere.

    • Rob says:

      Why are the names of the individuals needed?

      • Tom Paine says:

        The salt company CEOs are not forcing NYS to purchase the salt. The decision to purchase it is done in the NYS bureaucracy namely the NYSDOT and Office of general services on state highways. On local highways it would be the counties, towns and villages. All are no doubt be advised by their attorneys whom don’t want lawsuits. And we all know how litigious NYS is. So if anti salt wants the names of salt companies let’s have the names of the users. Sunlight for all.

        • Rob says:

          NYS has a bare road policy. How do you get the roads bare in the winter, you use salt. Until something better comes along this is what we have. Not sure what releasing names of individuals will do. Besides people protesting the businesses, protesting at individuals homes, etc.

    • Boreas says:

      Makes sense to me!

  4. Bill Keller says:

    There are four operating salt mines/wells in New York, all are in the Finger Lake region. 1) American Rock Salt ( Joe Bucci, CEO), Hampton Corners Mine 5520 State Route 63 (Groveland, NY) Mt. Morris, NY 14510. Provides 50% of states salt use. 2) Cargill Salt (Brian Sikes, CEO), Lansing Mine 191 Portland Point Rd. Lansing, NY 14882. 3) Cargill Salt Watkins Glen Refinery 518 E. 4th St. Watkins Glen, NY 14891 607-535-6300. 4) US Salt ( David Sugarman, CEO ) Watkins Glen Refinery Salt Point Rd. P.O. Box 110 Watkins Glen, NY 14891 888-872-7258. Hope this helps the key board warriors out there demanding names of CEOs. All public records that can be found with a click or two. So what now warriors, are you picketing the mines?

  5. Rose Anne says:

    Hoping to widen the discussion, I have a question about salt use for Zach:
    What is the effect of using salt brine instead of spreading dry, crystalline salt on the roads? Is there a reason it inappropriate for the Adirondacks?

    • Boreas says:

      Supposedly it is being tested on State RT 373 between Ausable Chasm and Port Kent. I only saw evidence of it back around Thanksgiving. Don’t know if they abandoned it or had mechanical failure.

  6. Todd Eastman says:

    The road salt program in Northeast states is driven by the huge contracts by salt suppliers have with the local and state governments. There are huge profits and potential for kickbacks to government officials for keeping these agreements in place.

    Consider the salt prices, profits, and the relative costs to residents for damages to their vehicles and impacts to water supplies.

    Putting reasonable tires on your vehicles and slowing the f___ down are a reasonable adjustment…

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