Trees around the Lake George shoreline had only the slightest trace of autumn color Monday as a snowplow scraped along a bare parking lot at the luxury Sagamore resort under the watchful eyes of local highway workers.
While snowflakes may still be months away, the plow could be part of stepped-up efforts to better protect the lake and the rest of the Adirondacks from another white scourge — rock salt spread by highway crews each winter that ends up washing into the water.
During the last three decades, salt levels in Lake George have tripled, making the lake now about 30 times saltier than an undeveloped Adirondack lake.
The problem is happening throughout the Adirondacks wherever there are roads, said Dan Kelting, executive director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College, who spoke at a regional summit aimed at addressing the growing threat of road salt. The conference, whose sponsors include the Fund for Lake George, the Sagamore and the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, the conference was attended by dozens of highway officials, lawmakers and environmental groups.
Half the streams and three-quarters of the lakes in the region being polluted with salt that washes off roads, said Kelting. Elevated salt levels can harm microscopic zooplankton, which form the base of the aquatic food chain, which in turn affects mollusks, crayfish and other macro invertebrates, as well as fish.
About 6.5 million tons of road salt have been spread through the Adirondacks since 1980, he said. Lakes near roads now contain also about 30 times the salt compared to lakes in undeveloped areas, while streams near roads can be up to 100 times saltier than remote streams.
One way to reduce the amount of rock salt spread from the back of plow trucks is to make the plows more efficient in taking snow off the road, leaving less need for salt to melt away what remains.