Environmental advocates and North Country lawmakers are celebrating New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing of a bill aimed at reducing the use of road salt.
The New York legislature this session passed the Randy Preston Road Salt Protection Act, a bill intended to safeguard drinking water and protect the environment. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill last Thursday.
Democratic Assemblyman D. Billy Jones of the 115th District was in Saranac Lake with North Country supporters of the bill to celebrate the measure becoming law. Jones says road salt is threatening public health and the environment. “We’ve known for years and years and decades now the corrosive effects that salt has on our environment. And I have been in homes that have dealt with this. It gets into their water wells. A house that I had visited in Saranac, it’s a brand new constructed home with a brand new well, they have had to ship water in. And there are many homes like that and residents like that throughout the North Country and the Adirondacks. And also our environment. Salt is getting into our waterways and our aquifers and doing damage to them.”
Retiring Republican state Senator Betty Little noted there have been pilot programs including in the Lake George area and this is an important step forward for the Adirondacks. "If we’re keeping our lakes and rivers and streams clean that is key for our economy, for our environment as well. So it’s a perfect place to do a project. And I don’t want to call it a study. I want to call it a pilot project preparation that we can actually implement when this is over with in the n ext couple of years."
Paul Smiths College’s Adirondack Watershed Institute Executive Director Dan Kelting said he’s a scientist who rarely sees the work he does translated directly into law. He started tracking the impact of road salt about a decade ago as part of a study to determine how salt was entering Adirondack lakes. “We quickly discovered that it was actually roads and that clearly had to do with the practice of road salting. And so we started to also think what about ground water? Because it washed off the roads. It went into the soil. And so we did a follow up study where we looked at over 500 wells in the Park and indeed we discovered significant well water or groundwater contamination, which is a direct human health concern. So the science really supported this legislation in terms of seeing widespread salt concentrations in our surface waters, our streams and lakes which has consequences for our ecosystems. But more importantly in terms of human health significant widespread groundwater pollution from road salting.”
Assemblyman Jones says the act’s key provision is the formation of a 14-member task force that will lead to an Adirondack pilot program to reduce the use of road salt. “This will be a working group and some of the measures that will be taken by the task force in implementing a pilot program they will use technology. They’re going to use the data. And that’s the key part of this legislation that we wanted to keep in there. We need the data. We need an approach to actually reduce the effects of road salt. The task force will be convened by 2021 and recommendations will go in no further than 2024 or the pilot program itself.”
According to the Adirondack Watershed Institute about seven million tons of road salt have been applied to Adirondack roads over the past 50 years.