Fifty years ago this week, federal lawmakers overrode a presidential veto to enact the Clean Water Act, a landmark law for the nation’s water quality.
The iconic image of the Cuyahoga River on fire in Ohio spurred congressional action and ushered in a half century of major river restorations across the nation. The goals outlined in the act included restoring the country’s water to a “fishable and swimmable” state.
During the first Adirondack Lakes Alliance symposium in recent years, Adirondack Watershed Institute Executive Director Dan Kelting previewed the panel’s recommendations. Here’s a look at some of what he said was included in recent drafts:
From discussing tree cutting along roads (which in some places could require a constitutional amendment) to potential winter tire mandates or lower speed limits, members raised numerous complicated challenges that underscored the task ahead.
The salt pollution challenge can be daunting: years and years of salt use have already penetrated surface and groundwater and will stick around for years to come. And salt is still the No. 1 way of keeping winter roads safe.
But the small highway crew in Hague, on the western shores of Lake George has started to show that if you use less salt on the roads, less salt will show up in the water. After the Hague crew reduced its salt use by nearly 70% over the last five years, researchers with RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute have found an average 4% annual reduction in chloride concentrations in Hague Brook. More study is needed but it’s a positive sign that Hague is reducing salt on the roads and in the waters.
WILMINGTON — The Ausable River Association (AsRA) will distribute a salt use survey this winter to residents, businesses, and independent contractors in Lake Placid. Developed with our partners at the Adirondack Watershed Institute, the survey is essential to determining the amount of salt entering Mirror Lake and the Chubb River. Funded by the Lake Champlain Basin Program through a multi-year technical grant, it’s another piece of our ongoing science-based effort to find a solution to road salt contamination in these waterways.
The salt survey is specific to residents and business in the Chubb River watershed. The watershed encompasses the area surrounding Lake Placid and includes the Village of Lake Placid. Completing the survey will take approximately 5-20 minutes, depending on the size of the area that you care for in your winter maintenance.
Overdue panel charged with preventing further pollution
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday named the members of a promised state task force charged with studying road salt use in the Adirondacks.
The 10 overdue appointees announced by the governor will join representatives from the state Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Health and Adirondack Park Agency as they set out to review current salt use practices and make recommendations to minimize future use.
The governor’s direct nominees include former DEC Commissioner Joe Martens; Adirondack Watershed Institute Executive Director Dan Kelting; Megan Phillips, vice president of conservation at the Adirondack Council; and Kristine Stepeneck, a professor at the University of Vermont.
Nonexistent task forces have a 100 percent track record of not issuing reports by deadline. So in that sense, the state’s road salt panel is doing exactly what New Yorkers expected of it.
Under the 2020 legislation establishing it, the task force was supposed to study the impact of road salt in the Adirondacks and come up with a pilot plan for reducing it, reporting to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2021 – as in, weeks ago.
Dugan said the county, with a $750,000 state grant and a $250,000 match, is building a shed to keep its stores of sand under roof. Before it’s stockpiled, salt has to be mixed into the sand to keep it from freezing into unspreadable chunks. Dougan said the shelter will keep the sand dry, and greatly reduce the ratio of salt to sand.
Dugan said he would also like to be allowed to cut trees in the highway right of way to let in the ice-melting sun, but even though environmentalists agree this is an important strategy, in the Forest Preserve that’s not allowed.
“I certainly feel an obligation to carry through with his mission, and I feel like Wilmington is leading change in the North Country,” Holzer said. Smart salt law can strike a balance between safety and the environment, while saving taxpayer money by reducing the need to purchase salt, he said.
Municipalities, businesses and not-for-profit organizations interested in learning how to keep roads, driveways and parking areas safe this winter while reducing the cost and environmental consequences of road salt use are invited to attend the 2021 Adirondack Champlain Regional Salt Summit, Thursday, Oct. 14, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center in Lake George. Online attendance will also be available for those unable to travel to the Summit. Registration is free for all attendees.
This year’s Summit will be the 6th annual gathering focused on best practices for reducing road salt use, and will feature progress on road salt reduction in the Lake George region. It is presented by the Lake George Association, which spearheads the Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative, and Lake Champlain Sea Grant. The agenda will include:
Sometimes in the environmental protection field there’s a celebration of achievements before they’re fully realized. Case in point: We recently reported that a state road salt task force that was celebrated as a potential win for Adirondack water quality was not actually a done deal, as the governor has yet to appoint its members.
Environmental groups are hopeful that incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul will finish the job. The Adirondack Council’s Willie Janeway said this about it in a news release: “Many of the state’s functions inside the Adirondack Park have ground to a halt as the executive branch of government succumbed to administrative paralysis while the current Governor attempted to defend his actions. As Kathy Hochul becomes governor, the entire state will have an opportunity to heal and make progress again.”
It’s important work, as is the road salt study, septic and sewage management and proposed new surveys of park lakes’ changing ecology. We’ll see how the new governor approaches these problems.
One of the Adirondack Explorer’s priorities over the last couple of years has been to thoroughly explain the park’s hidden water quality issues, including the problems associated with New York State’s heavy use of road salt in winter. So it was a nice affirmation recently when the Society of Environmental Journalists honored that work, and reporter Ry Rivard, with an honorable mention.
Several decades ago, acid rain in the Adirondacks helped direct the nation’s attention to new kinds of air pollution.
Despite the local environmental protections here, acids were being carried from coal-fired power plants elsewhere in the country by the atmosphere and falling into Adirondack lakes and streams, killing off fish. The regulatory boundary protecting the park’s forests and wetlands from development and logging weren’t going to stop that.
A national problem needed a national solution. So, in 1990, Congress updated the Clean Air Act to crack down on polluters.
A recent paper, authored by researchers at the University of Maryland, argues that salt pollution, including pollution from road salt, may be so ubiquitous that it now needs such a national solution. “Ultimately,” the paper says, “there may be a need for regulations similar to the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which were enacted to address pollution from acid rain.”
AdkAction was recently awarded $50,000 from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. The grant is for a newly formed “Clean Water, Safe Roads” partnership, which will work to reduce salt pollution along the 125-mile-long lake between New York and Vermont. Together with partners from Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute and Lake Champlain Sea Grant, the project partners intend to enact an in-depth and personalized outreach and education program to municipal highway departments in the Lake Champlain Basin Area.
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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.
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