The New York Senate and Assembly members representing the Adirondack region have introduced legislation intended to limit road salt pollution.
According to an ongoing study by the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College, nearly 160,000 metric tons of road salt is applied to roads in the Adirondacks annually. It found road salt sediments in about one-third of Adirondack lakes and 52 percent of streams. Researchers also found that hundreds of private wells across the park were contaminated.
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, a Democrat, and Republican state Senator Betty Little have introduced “The Randy Preston Salt Reduction Act.” Jones says concerns are growing about road salt in the region’s environment and aquifers. “Having safe roads is still a top priority. But we just need to take a look at the use of salt and the overuse of salt that we’re putting on these roads. And New York state has to take the appropriate action to that. The runoff from this it’s a huge issue. It’s getting into our aquifers. It’s getting into people’s homes, into their wells and it’s just an awful problem to have.”
The legislation would create an Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force and also direct state agencies to implement a three-year pilot program to reduce the use of salt on every state road in the Adirondacks. Senator Little says some local pilot programs have proved the use of less salt is feasible. “Many of the towns use sand and salt combination so they’ve done a better job than the state has done because the state works under the same statewide programs. We’ve had a couple of pilot areas and last year Route 86 they reduced the speed limit, they put up signage low salt road, low maintenance road in the winter. And you know people have to start to understand you can’t go speeding down the highway when there’s snow and ice on the road and expect to have clear pavement. The cost of that is too much.”
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth says salt is lethal to Adirondack ecosystems. “Nothing kills those ecosystems faster than salt. The state Department of Transportation uses basically pure halite. Other contaminants eventually they remediate. But not salt. Once you get salt into an ecosystem you can never get it out. And if we continue this rain of death from the highways into our ecosystems we’re going to have lakes that are dead.”
Woodworth adds: “New York state is the Saudi Arabia of water. Seriously. We have more fresh water, we and the state of Maine, than any other place in the country. It’s essential to keeping that fresh water pure that we keep things like salt out of the environment. The Romans figured out a way to destroy their enemies the Carthaginians by salting their fields so they could no longer grow food. And we could take a lesson from what the Romans did to the Carthaginians.”
The Watershed Institute study found that New York state is the largest user of road salt in North America.