Youth-led nonprofit ramps up Adirondack programming around road salt’s impacts on water supplies
By Zachary Matson
A youth-led nonprofit founded by a Greenwich native in 2019 has started to expand programming to the Adirondacks over the past year, focusing on road salt contamination education.
Over the past year, the Water Insecurity Correction Coalition surveyed residents on the road salt issue and started working with teachers and students at both Northville and Saranac Lake high schools.
The organization is a hosting a pair of town hall events on Saturday at Saranac Lake High School Auditorium at 11 a.m.; and at the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb at 6 p.m.
The forums will include a presentation on road salt pollution, family activities and an opportunity to ask questions. Free chloride test strips will also be available for people to monitor their house’s water supply.
The driving motivation behind the organization’s Adirondack program is that there is value in residents “knowing whether or not your water is contaminated and … what to do about it.”
Annabel Gregg, 22, first learned about water insecurity from a 9-year-old in Flint, Mich., who raised money to help supply her neighbors with water during a water contamination crisis in the midwestern city.
“I remember being both disturbed and very inspired by the fact that she could solicit thousands of dollars of donations,” Gregg recalled.
Gregg, who was a high schooler in Greenwich at the time, donated $3 to the campaign. But she wanted to do more. She organized a 5K run to raise money for Flint, collecting $1,600 the second year, and established the nonprofit to expand the scale of her ambition.
“There are Flints all over the country, water issues are hidden,” she said. “I want to have this organization basically throw everything we have at this complicated problem.”
Gregg said the group attempts to act as a liaison between communities and government, helping people understand the challenges they face and how to respond to them. As an upstater who hikes in the Adirondacks, Gregg has been tracking the region’s road salt discourse.
Her group had been working on water contamination by compounds known as PFAS in Poestenkill (Rensselaer County), and in late-2022 started to expand its work in the Adirondacks.
“There seemed to be a gap in how residents in the park are involved in this process, what they know about it and what they can do about it,” she said. “It’s the most basic level of a problem. I think residents want to know more and there is inadequate education and advocacy around the issue.”
The nonprofit conducted surveys on what residents think about road salt contamination, focusing on residents in Saranac Lake, Schroon Lake, Warrensburg and Speculator. Gregg said 60% of respondents consider road salt contamination a significant problem in their community.
“Residents want to fix this, and I think nonprofits and policymakers should know that,” she said.
The group is also working to expand citizen chloride testing, both at home taps and natural water sources. The results from the simple, cheap test strips they are distributing can be uploaded to a national database through the Izaak Walton League, a Maryland-based conservation nonprofit.
Hold the Salt
With a panel of task force members and other experts, Adirondack Explorer examines what’s next for road salt reduction in the Adirondacks.
In the classroom
This school year, Water Insecurity Correction Coalition started on-the-ground monitoring work with students at Northville and Saranac Lake high schools.
The students are working with science teachers to collect chloride samples in nearby water bodies – Great Sacandaga Lake in Northville and Glenn Pond in Saranac Lake. Gregg also visited the classrooms to discuss road salt contamination.
Katie O’Reilly Alexanian and fellow Saranac Lake science teacher Shannon Bartholomew are partnering on the initiative. The sampling project gives students an opportunity to connect to an actual problem facing their community and be part of a broader scientific effort.
“It’s good for the students to feel like they are actually doing some real science,” Bartholomew said. “They are making a contribution to a monitoring project. I think that is important for them to feel like they are a part of something.”
The teachers said some of their students have been directly impacted by salt contamination and that students who regularly hunt, fish and recreate outside are often more familiar with local environmental issues.
“I like that this one is relevant,” Alexanian said. “It’s happening right now, we are impacted by it right now and there are things in the news we can pull from.”
In Northville, Jamie Dickinson and students in her ecology class are sampling water from Great Sacandaga and Little Lake in the village. Like in Saranac Lake, they have been collecting monthly baseline chloride data since October and have also been collecting samples after major storms and salting events for analysis. Dickinson said it has been valuable working with Gregg’s coalition to show students that young people can explore these issues.
“I think that it’s really powerful,” Dickinson said.
She has her students fleshing out the data in mapping projects and engaging with the district’s facilities coordinator to identify ways for the district to minimize its salt impact.
“We really want our students to be stewards of our lake, we want them to have a real passion, a real appreciation for the lake,” Dickinson said.
Photo at top: Annabel Gregg meeting with Adirondack high schoolers as part of a new initiative by her nonprofit. Photo provided by Annabel Gregg
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