By Kristen Wilde
Director of Education
Now that the New Year has arrived and winter with it, the Lake George Association would like to offer some tips on snow and ice maintenance on your property (or at your business) so those actions do not contribute to the salt load in the Lake.
And, like the traditional New Year’s vow to eat healthy and exercise more, there is no magic bullet. It’s about working diligently, being aware and being knowledgeable.
As we all know, the use of salt (magnesium, calcium or sodium chloride) has become the routine way to manage a buildup of ice or hard-packed snow on our properties, as well as the routine way municipalities maintain roadways in the winter.
Because of that routine use, the amount of salt in the watershed has increased over the last three decades, something the LGA has been raising awareness about for more than 20 years.
The excess salt in the watershed can disrupt freshwater ecosystems, contaminate the drinking water supply that is Lake George, kill vegetation, disturb wildlife, and damage infrastructure.
In all, the excess salt is not supporting water quality protection.
Concern over the excess salt and what it means for the future of Lake George is why we invited highway superintendents and town supervisors to a Municipal De-Icing Best Practices Forum back in 2013. (You can see the report from that forum on our website under “publications.”)
Over the last decade, the LGA sought collaboration and discussion about the problem, and to review the ways to slow the increase of salt concentration in the Lake’s water and in the ground in the watershed.
Which leads us to today: where New York state is performing a low-salt test for Route 9N from Lake George Village to Bolton, and all of the towns around the watershed have been provided with equipment to store and spread salt brine, which should reduce the amount of actual de-icing materials being applied in each storm.
For homeowners and business owners, however, there aren’t all that many cost-effective alternatives to using salt. So until new, safer products are identified, the key is reducing the amount of salt used; adopting best management practices; and applying the right material, at the right time, and in the right amount.
Everyone who lives in the Lake George watershed can help to reduce the overall amount of salt in the Lake by paying closer attention to winter maintenance habits:
- Shovel early and often: It stands to reason that when you remove snow and ice by shoveling, you’ll need less salt and the de-icing material will be more effective. Begin your cleanup work as early as you can and keep up with the snowfall 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 de-icing material on icy areas only, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for working temperatures and application rates. If the temperature is above or below the working temperatures (please check the bag for details), 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.
- Apply smartly: Keep salt application away from any storm drain, or where melted runoff can mix with salt and then flow into a storm drain. In many communities, storm drains lead directly into the Lake.
- Reposition downspouts: Make sure downspouts are pointed away from paved (or other hardened) areas so that water isn’t draining onto your walkways or driveways where it can refreeze.
- Reposition snow piles: Shovel unsalted snow to lower areas of your property or onto lawns to direct melting snow away from paved areas.
- Do your homework: Research de-icing materials before you purchase them to determine which is best for your specific property and need. Not all products have the same ingredients. Consider purchasing a de-icier that is chloride free.
Kristen Wilde is the Director of Education for the Lake George Association. The Lake George Association is among the oldest and most experienced lake protection organizations in the country, whose members support water quality protection, scientific monitoring, education and lake-friendly living programs that benefit the watershed from Lake George Village to Ticonderoga.
All the money raised by the Lake George Association stays in the Lake George watershed, and is used to support and fund projects and programs that protect Lake George water quality now and in the future.