EDITORIAL: Road salt in Adirondacks not just a winter problem

Governor should sign bill creating task force to study excessive road salt use in Adirondacks
A Schenectady County snowplow knocks wind drifts off the road and spreads salt-dirt mixtures in 2019.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A Schenectady County snowplow knocks wind drifts off the road and spreads salt-dirt mixtures in 2019.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

It’s the middle of summer, and the last thing you’re probably thinking about is road salt.

But the damage done to drinking water supplies, private wells and waterways by excessive road salt distributed by snowplows each winter is a yearlong problem.

All you have to do is cruise along Route 73 between Lake Placid and Northway Exit 30 in Keene right now to get a visual impact of the problem.

About 160,000 metric tons of road salt – nearly 352 million pounds! – is applied to roads in the Adirondack Park every year, according to Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute.

Salt in water destroys habitats for animals, creates dead zones in lakes by making the fresh water heavier, and makes it difficult or impossible for trees and other plants to survive.

But it’s not just a significant environmental problem. It’s also a significant people problem. How significant?

A recent study conducted by the institute of 500 wells in the Adirondacks found that more than half the wells exceeded safe sodium levels and more than quarter exceeded chloride guidelines, the Adirondack Council reports.


If homeowners can’t use their wells and drink the water, they can’t live where they live and contribute to the local economy. Businesses and downtowns like Lake Placid that rely on lakes for recreational business, tourism and a clean water supply can’t exist or thrive.

High salinity in groundwater can contribute to high blood pressure and hyperchloremia, an electrolyte imbalance from too much chloride in the blood.

It’s vital that the state address this problem.

A bill (A8767/S6824) that passed the Legislature in July and that’s awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature would help, by establishing an Adirondack road salt reduction task force, as well as establish a pilot plan and test program for road salt reduction.

The task force would gather information for lawmakers and present options for best management practices for road maintenance. The bill also directs the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation to conduct a three-year road salt reduction pilot program and report to the governor and Legislature in August 2024. 

Concerns by transportation officials about clearing the roads effectively can be addressed by judging the effectiveness of alternative measures implemented under this legislation.

Gov. Cuomo should resist pressure to veto the bill and recognize its importance to the people and environment of the Adirondacks by signing it.

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