By Michael Virtanen
LAKE GEORGE _ Public works trucks now dump almost 193,000 tons of salt on highways and local roads annually in the Adirondacks, which eventually join runoff into the region’s waterways, according to the Paul Smith’s College professor who’s researching it.
Daniel Kelting, also executive director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute, said the total is almost seven million tons of sodium chloride since the practice began around the 1980 Winter Olympics, raising the salt levels in most Adirondack waterways, which were historically low.
“This widespread use of road salt has resulted in regional salinization of our surface waters, our lakes and streams, and also our groundwater, which many folks in the Adirondacks use as their primary drinking-water source,” Kelting said. “This actually represents the largest input of a pollutant into the region. It’s over double the amount of nitrate and sulfate that’s been input over that same period of time with the acid deposition.”
Research has begun on the environmental impact. A Canadian study showed higher salt levels killing zooplankton, small organisms in lakes and streams that are “critical in the food chain,” he said.
Most of the Adirondack salt, about 110,000 tons annually, is applied to state roads and highways, Kelting said, addressing volunteer lake testers gathered in Lake George last weekend. They comprise only about one-fourth of the Adirondacks’ total roadways, but often have higher speed limits than local roads, many of which are plowed and sanded or just plowed, he said.
The volunteers in the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program, managed by the DEC and New York State Federation of Lake Associations, are tasked with taking prescribed samples from their respective lakes eight times annually at two-week intervals in summer, then documenting collections, storing and shipping them to a lab while also making their own observations on water quality.
They also look for algae blooms and take samples that are tested to determine if they are cyanobacteria and produce toxins.
Lake association members now visit 170 sites statewide, said Nancy Mueller, federation manager. They test and sample in both shallow and deep water for clarity, temperature, pH, chlorophyll, phosphorous, dissolved oxygen and other indicators of lake health, with results posted online by the DEC.
In the Adirondacks, they include Lake George, Mirror Lake, Schroon Lake, Jenny Lake and Lake Placid among others.
The Adirondack Watershed Institute, with a similar program, tests about eighty Adirondack lakes, Kelting said.
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