Salt Pollution

Background and the Adirondack Council co-sponsored a third inter-organizational conference on September 16th 2014 at Paul Smith's College to address the growing problem of winter road salt damage in the Adirondack Park. Videos of the eight conference presentations are linked here.

This conference followed on a June, 2011 conference where Daniel Kelting, executive director of the Paul Smith's Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI), presented dramatic new research on chloride loading along road networks that abut watersheds in the Adirondack Park. His conclusions which have extraordinary statistical validity point to the use of salt on state roads as the single most important cause of high sodium and chloride levels in Park lakes. Dr. Kelting's abstract of his study can be viewed here, and the complete transcription of his presentation including the illustrations from his powerpoint slides can be found here

Dr. Kelting's presentation was a follow up to the important publication commissioned by and released by Kelting and the AWI last year titled Review of Effects and Costs of Road De-icing with Recommendations for Winter Road Management in the Adirondack Park, which can be viewed by clicking here


Status of our Project has made good progress in our efforts to reduce the use of salt in winter road maintenance. Dr. Daniel Kelting of the Paul Smith's Adirondack Watershed Institute (PSAWI) says "About 176,000 tons of road salt it spread on paved road in the Adirondack Park each year, making road salt one of the most significant external contaminants in terms of total annual load to watersheds in our region. Because Adirondack soils are thin and porous, most of this salt ends up in ground and surface water." Dr. Kelting and his team wrote the study of road salt and its alternatives that we sponsored in 2010 and presented ground-breaking research at our 2011 conference linking the State's salting program directly to the build-up of sodium and chlorides in our watersheds. To view click HERE.

With the help of our elected officials, notably Senator Betty Little, and the Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) under Commissioner Joan McDonald and the Department of Conservation (NYSDEC) under Commissioner Joe Martens, we have reached agreement with NYSDOT on a broad salt reduction program that started with NYSDOT's across-the-board 10% reduction in salt use for the entire state. For the Adirondacks, NYSDOT agreed to develop programs for three test roads which were subject to even further reduced salt use. These roads were Route 8 west of the Northway, Route 73 through the Cascades north of Keene, Route 30 from the intersection with Route 3 in the south and Route 186 in the north, and Route 3 from the intersection with Route 30 to the Saranac Lake village line.

The techniques used on these test road segments included the use of a second scraper plow to minimize the number of passes each truck must make, use of magnesium chloride (MgCl) in place of or in addition to pure salt in ecologically sensitive areas, reduced truck speed (from 35 to 25 mph) to reduce salt splatter, added driver training, electronic monitoring of truck material distributions, and special signage to alert drivers to the test areas.

To monitor progress, purchased three sets of stream monitors, six in total, and provided support for the acquisition of 15 more through grants from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. These were installed on streams along the test segments.  During the test period we also collected water samples (based on road salting and weather events) from these locations to analyze for sodium and chloride and other parameters. The difference between the upstream and downstream plots give a high resolution measurement of the effect of road salting. We then couple this data with the road salt application data from the NYS DOT to begin interpreting the effect of road salting on stream water quality.

While we are on track to reduce salt loading of our surface waters further, the groundwater pollution issue looms large. Wells all over the area are coming up with chloride levels way over 100ppm and many have had to be abandoned. We are working with the State and other funding sources to try to extend the study done for surface waters to aquifers.

 Next Steps

 At the September 16, 2014 conference participants were asked to volunteer to join a working group to pursue the recommendations that came out of the conference.  Willie Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council (and co-sponsor of the conference) and Randy Prestn, Supervisor of the Townof Wilmington, agreed to co-chair the working group.  It has now met two times and is formulating a program of next steps to take to the state for consideration.  It is clear that the added actions that can be taken will require more dramatic steps than those taken during the experiments which although successful - with 30% reductions in per-lane salt uses - did not reverse the buildup of watershed salinity.  Next steps will require major policy and logistics changes that can only be implemented with a top-down government commitment.



  Captions From Left: The Coordination subcommittee deliberates, Dr. Kelting presents his findings