LAKE GEORGE — Jim Sutherland painted a chilling picture for the Lake George Park Commission Tuesday about what could happen if road salt is not reduced in the watershed.
The former state Department of Environmental Conservation staff member is studying the road salt issue with The Fund for Lake George. He said if the rate of salt application used in 2009 were to continue to this day and beyond, sodium levels could reach the lower threshold of concern for heart and kidney patients by 2050.
“And if that happens, then every water supply on Lake George under EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulation will have to implement a monitoring program to keep track of the sodium concentrations and inform the residents who use the water what the levels of sodium are,” Sutherland said.
The salt application rates used in 2009 are gradually becoming a thing of the past, however, as groups like the park commission, The Fund, the Lake George Association and municipalities in the watershed work on reducing use of salt on roads.
Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said that by using a number of different technologies — cameras taking photos of road conditions, tools measuring salt application, live-tracking of temperatures and salt spreading and more — the town of Lake George was able to reduce its road salt use significantly.
The town Highway Department was honored at the fourth annual Salt Summit earlier this month for becoming the first municipality in the country to go through the Sustainable Winter Management Program, a certification offered through the company WIT Advisers.
Hague Deputy Supervisor Steve Ramant said later in the meeting that his town is working toward the certification this year and will be using a new live-edge plow. Live-edge plows reduce salt use because the plow blade has more contact with the ground, removing more ice and snow. Other municipalities in the watershed will be using them this winter, too.
For now, sodium and chloride concentrations in Lake George are low, at least compared to Mirror Lake in Lake Placid. Commissioners asked Navitsky to discuss the problems with Mirror Lake, which has had such high levels of salt that the lake water didn’t mix in 2017.
Usually, lakes go through a “turnover” process in the spring, which means the water mixes, redistributing oxygen. It’s an important process for cold-water fish like trout. If the oxygen does not get redistributed, the fish are forced into a small area of water that has enough oxygen.
Both Lake George and Mirror Lake are part of a state Department of Transportation study this winter to reduce road salt use.