What's the scoop on road salts?
Salts used to de-ice roads during winter months have a major impact on different ecosystems, particularly in bodies of water. These salts are washed through grasses and make their way into New York's lakes, streams, ponds and coastal waters.
Plant and animal species that are fresh-water thriving struggle to survive in conditions that experience salt spikes.
This dramatically changes their living conditions, quicker than you might think.
As marine biologists continue to research the effects of road salts on marine environments, some New York cities and townships are pushing for more eco-friendly approaches to road salts.
Here's what Lake George has accomplished this year to improve the health of the lake...
Highway salt around Lake George is softer touch
$200,000 state grant awarded for different mix on area’s roads
By Brian Nearing
Local highway departments around Lake George will replace more road salt this winter with salt brine as part of efforts to reduce rising salt levels in the lake, under a recent $200,000 grant from the state.
A mix of salt and water, brine is much less concentrated than spreading salt crystals on icy roads, so that means less salt has the potential to get into the lake, which already is about 30 times saltier than an undeveloped Adirondack lake.
Announced last week, the award through the Capital District Regional Economic Development Council is supporting an effort by towns around the lake to reduce the lake’s salt levels, which have been steadily rising for decades.
“We are setting an example for others to follow,” said Eric Siy, executive director of The Fund for Lake George, and a founding member of the SAVE Lake George Partnership, which includes the town’s around the lake.
Salt brine uses about a quarter as much salt as the spreading of crystals, he said. The state grant will pay for the purchase and installation of salt brine tanks that will be used by town highway crews.
Brine is applied on roads prior to a storm to form a layer the inhibits accumulation of snow and ice. This makes is easier for snowplows to keep roads clear during a storm.
Lake George Village Mayor Robert Bob Blais said the project is “now on track to making Lake George a national model for reducing the use of toxic road salt.”
The money will be used to buy a new, larger brine mixing machine for the town of Lake George, and to buy more brine spreading equipment, said Chris Navitsky, the Lake George Waterkeeper, which is also part of the project. Currently, the highway departments of Queensbury, Bolton and the town of Lake George have such equipment, along with brine storage tanks to replenish the trucks.
Siy said the salt reduction project has a goal to reduce highway road salt applications, currently estimated at about 15,000 tons a year by municipalities — including the state Transportation Department— around around the lake, to about 7,500 tons by 2020.
That figure does not include salt used on private roads, parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks, which are estimated to account for another 15,000 tons of salt annually. While the use of municipal road salt around the lake roughly doubled during the last three decades, salt levels in the lake have tripled during that period.
The project also has been studying salt levels in streams around the lake that cross major roads on their way into the lake. For example, Finkle Brook in Bolton, which crosses under Route 9N, has salt levels about seven times greater than the lake itself.
Rising salt levels threaten the lake’s ecosystem, Siy said, adding salt can “alter the composition of phytoplankton, periphyton, and macroinvertebrate communities, altering the food web and, hence, potentially changing the biological productivity of Lake George.”
The presence of salt also can fuel the accelerated release of calcium into lake water. Such calcium is required by shell-bearing creatures to make shells. Lake George has naturally low calcium levels, which likely have helped inhibit the spread of shelled invasives, such as the Asian clam, said Siy.