With Gov. Cuomo’s signing of the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction law, the state is taking its first steps to protect water quality from road salt. Waterways across the Adirondacks have been compromised by road salt contamination since 1980 and we are just now beginning to understand its effects.
The new law establishes an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and Pilot Plan program. The purpose is to maintain safe passage for travelers while preserving drinking water. The task force will gather, summarize, and make recommendations for management of a three-year Adirondack-wide road salt application reduction pilot program, to begin in the fall of 2021.
Research by the Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI) at Paul Smith’s College has indicated that surface and groundwater is being contaminated by runoff that is high in sodium and chlorides. AWI estimates that the salt load on roads in the Upper Saranac Lake (USL) watershed is approximately 1,242 tons annually. USL has a substantially higher concentration level of salt compared to Adirondack lakes without paved roads (10x higher for sodium, 35x higher for chloride), and nearly 4x greater than it was in 1991.
Road salt is having direct and indirect effects on aquatic ecosystems. Excessive road salt application is leaching into surface and groundwater, releasing toxic substances into our water supplies, harming aquatic life, killing vegetation, and threatening our health. High salinity in groundwater can contribute to high blood pressure and other health conditions in humans, and destroy plumbing and appliances in households. There are numerous households in the Upper Saranac Lake watershed that have documented contaminated well water and are now forced to purchase bottle water for household use.
More information about impacts of salt on USL watershed can be found in The Upper Saranac Lake State of the Lake Report.