Road Salt Has Become the Acid Rain of Our Time
Whether scattered from a 25-ton plow truck or tossed from a plastic cup onto a residential driveway, road salt inevitably ends up in groundwater that supplies drinking water wells, and in streams and Lake George itself, where spiking salt levels can be toxic to aquatic life.
For years, an estimated 30,000 metric tons of road salt were applied in the Lake George basin — enough salt to fill a train three miles long, every year. As a result, salt concentrations in the Lake tripled, as documented by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s nearly four decades of water quality monitoring and new analysis from The Jefferson Project.
Projections warn that without major reductions in salt use, the natural balance of water circulation and food web composition are at serious risk.
The LGA has identified road salt reduction as being essential to the long-term protection of the Lake’s legendary water quality and has partnered with local municipalities on a science-based, technology-driven initiative that is achieving significant reductions.
The LGA co-hosts a major annual Salt Summit, bringing together local, regional and national experts and vendors for a day-long educational program with a goal of inspiring and empowering municipalities, businesses, and individuals to utilize the latest strategies and science to reduce winter road salt use, saving money and protecting the environment.
What we do for you:
From Science to Solutions: The Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative
Under the leadership of the LGA, all municipalities in the Lake George basin have adopted a Memorandum of Understanding and Best Practices Agreement endorsing the need to reduce road salt use and the practices required to do so. This MOU then led to the creation — and significant funding — by the LGA of the Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative.
Leading the way in the Initiative are the Town of Hague, the Town of Lake George, and Warren County. All are working in tandem with scientists from the LGA and experts from the winter management consulting firm WIT Advisers, LLC, and Viaesys, Inc., a developer of specialized technology solutions for sustainable winter management.
To date, the municipalities are reducing their road salt use by as much as 50% per winter and saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in winter management expense, as chronicled in the 2020 documentary, “The Road Map to Road Salt Reduction.”
The municipalities’ plow truck crews have gone through extensive training with WIT and Viaesys, and now employ best practices for using the minimum amounts of salt necessary while keeping the roads safe for motorists. In conjunction with these efforts, the towns and County have also become the first three municipalities in North America to earn the Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM®) Program certification, developed and administered by WIT Advisers.
Teamwork & Technology are Keys to Success
The towns’ and County’s efforts are founded on a proactive anti-icing strategy, whereby liquid brine (with just a 23% road salt content) is sprayed on roads in advance of storms. The brine helps prevent a bond from forming between the snow and the pavement, much like using cooking spray on a pan, and makes it easier to scrape the road clean. This is in contrast to a de-icing strategy where much greater amounts of road salt are used to break the ice-to-road bond after it has already formed. While some road salt is typically still needed during a storm, the amounts are far less. Both the Town of Hague and Warren County have recently installed their own brine plants with underwriting from the LGA.
In addition, the cabs of the plow trucks are loaded with sophisticated GPS-linked technologies that record the temperature at the surface of the roads and also calibrate and track each truck’s road salt application patterns. Video cameras in the cabs and along roads provide a real-time look at conditions and how effectively the ice prevention strategy is working. Also, before, during and after each storm, crew members patrol local roads to evaluate conditions and determine where more or less attention is needed. From the cab and in the garage, they’re constantly sharing best practices and striving for continuous improvement.
At road level, the trucks are equipped with Live-Edge plows, which are specially engineered with the plow blade segmented into a series of jointed, spring-loaded sections that move up and down to conform with the contours of the road, removing snow and ice far closer to the surface than traditional plows and reducing the need for salt. As a certified distributor of Live Edge plows the LGA has enabled local municipalities to purchase this innovative snow-removal technology at the lowest available cost.
Essential to our Initiative’s success is the commitment of the local plow truck drivers, who have become our greatest ambassadors, always striving for continuous improvement in all they do and proudly sharing their expertise with their peers at formal events and in informal conversations.
Also inspired by the Initiative’s success, the New York State Department of Transportation has implemented a salt-reduction pilot program on two heavily traveled state roads in the Basin, the results of which are being monitored by the Lake George Waterkeeper, an integral program of the LGA.
What we do together:
While the Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative is considered by many to be the nation’s best practices model for the public sector, research on the issue finds that as much as half of the excessive salt use in Lake George and other places comes from private residential and business properties. Critical to catching up with public sector progress will be the role of Lake Protectors directly participating in road salt reduction. Becoming a Lake Protector now will start this essential process.
Reducing private-sector salt use involves basic and proven practices that keep driveways, sidewalks and private roads safe while protecting the Lake, the streams that experience spiking salt levels at toxic concentrations, and the groundwater that feeds drinking water wells.
Priority Actions for Large Businesses:
Become Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM®) Certified
If you manage your own winter maintenance program, have your activities reviewed and certified through the Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM®) program. This comprehensive assessment and evaluation process will help implement best practices to successfully maintain safe conditions while saving money.
Require Your Winter Maintenance Contractor to be SWiM® Certified
By having your property serviced by a SWiM Certified contractor, you will reduce road salt application and your winter management costs.
Consider Liquid Brine as an Ice-preventer
Applying liquid brine (with just a 23% road salt content) on roads in advance of storms helps prevent a bond from forming between the snow and the pavement, and makes it easier to scrape the road clean. This is in contrast to a de-icing strategy where much greater amounts of road salt are used to break the ice-to-road bond after it has already formed. While some road salt is typically still needed during a storm, the amounts are far less.
Use Live-Edge Plows for a “Closer Shave”
This innovative plow’s “live edge” blade is segmented into a series of jointed, spring-loaded sections that move up and down to conform with the contours of the road, removing snow and ice far closer to the surface than traditional plows and reducing the need for salt.
Priority Actions for Residents and Small Businesses
Shovel Early and Often
When you remove snow and ice by shoveling, you’ll need less salt and it will be more effective. Begin your cleanup work as early as you can and keep up with the snowfall (unless freezing rain is forecast to follow the snow) so the sun can get at the pavement/sidewalk and melt it away. You may even decide that salt isn’t needed.
Use an Ice Chipper
A specialized ice-chopping tool (not an ice pick) will allow you to work faster and more efficiently removing ice or a hard buildup of snow than a standard snow shovel.
Apply Only What’s Needed
Sprinkle salt on icy areas only and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for working temperatures and application rates. Winter salt is most effective between 32 degrees F and 10 degrees F. If the temperature is above or below that, you can consider alternatives such as using a small amount of sand for traction, or chopping and removing the built up snow/ice with an ice chipper or shovel.
Be Careful Where You Spread It
Keep salt away from any storm drain, or areas where melted runoff can mix with salt and then flow into a storm drain. In many communities, storm drains lead directly into the Lake.
Make sure your gutter downspouts are pointed away from pavement or other hardened areas so that water isn’t draining onto your walkways or driveways where it can refreeze.
Pile it Properly
Shovel unsalted snow to lower areas of your property or onto lawns to direct melting snow away from paved areas.