The following profile was prepared by The FUND for Lake George prior to its 2021 merger with the LGA.
Solubility rates. Saturation levels. Surface temperature sensors.
They’re probably not things you’d expect to hear discussed in the cab of a plow truck in the midst of a midwinter snow storm. But for the highway crews from Warren County and the towns of Hague and Lake George, they’re just some of the high-tech terms and technologies they’re using to safely reduce the amount of harmful road salt that’s being applied on winter roads in the Lake George basin and ending up in nearby streams and the Lake itself.
The towns and County are leading the way in the highly successful Lake George Salt Reduction Initiative, coordinated by The FUND for Lake George. Now in its fifth year, this is the most advanced municipal salt-reduction effort in North America.
“We’ve achieved a lot, but we’re not stopping. I have two young daughters. If I can do something to let them experience what I got to experience as a kid — boating and swimming on Lake George — that’s what’s important.”
—ROB VOPLEUS, TOWN OF LAKE GEORGE
In conjunction with the Initiative, the towns and County have also become the first three municipalities in North America to earn the Sustainable Winter Management (SWiM®) Program certification, developed and administered by winter management consulting firm WIT Advisers, LLC. The crews have gone through extensive training with experts from WIT and Viaesys, Inc., a developer of specialized technology solutions for sustainable winter management, and now employ a variety of techniques to ensure they’re using the minimum amounts of salt necessary while keeping the roads safe for motorists. The effort is also greatly reducing the municipalities’ winter road maintenance costs.
Research by The FUND and its science-based partners has found road salt to be one of the greatest threats to the long-term health of Lake George and its tributaries. Once applied, salt dissolves and is carried into surface waters through stormwater runoff, or leaches directly into groundwater. Upon entering the groundwater and surface waters, salt can build up to the point where it negatively impacts drinking water supplies, as well as the health of fish and other aquatic wildlife, insects and plants. Extensive data gathered by WIT and Viaesys demonstrate that far more salt has been applied in the basin over the years than is necessary to keep roads safe.
In a dedicated effort to correct this, the County and towns have adopted a proactive anti-icing strategy — funded in part by grants from The FUND — in which liquid brine (with just a 23% road salt content) is sprayed on roads in advance of storms. The brine helps prevent a bond from forming between the snow and the pavement, much like using cooking spray on a pan, and makes it easier to scrape the road clean. This is in contrast to a de-icing strategy where much greater amounts of road salt are used to break the ice-to-road bond after it has already formed. While some road salt is typically still needed during a storm, the amounts are far less.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (pun fully intended) when it comes to road salt reduction. The County and towns use Live-Edge plows, which are specially engineered for a “closer shave.”
In addition, the cabs of their plow trucks are loaded with sophisticated technologies that record the temperature at the surface of the roads and also calibrate and track each truck’s road salt application patterns. Video cameras in the cabs and along roads provide a real-time look at conditions and how effectively the ice prevention strategy is working. Also, before, during and after each storm, crew members patrol local roads to evaluate conditions and determine where more or less attention is needed. From the cab and in the garage, they’re constantly sharing best practices and striving for continuous improvement.
“We’re trying to lose that old school mentality that you just throw salt and more salt,” says Town of Hague Truck Driver Tim Fiallo. “We’re loving it. We’re like sponges, we’re absorbing it. We just keep pushing ourselves to do a better job.”
“We love the challenge,” echoes Hague Deputy Highway Superintendent Matt Coffin. “The more we go forward, the more we see the results and the more we save.” Over the past four years, Matt says, the town has reduced its salt use by an average of 200 tons — and nearly $15,000 — per year. The anti-icing effort has also enabled the town to eliminate its use of sand on winter roads, as well as the associated springtime sand cleanup, bringing its total savings over the past five years to nearly $112,000.
Warren County Superintendent of Public Works Kevin Hajos says the County will move full-speed into salt reduction this coming winter after having earned its SWiM® certification last year. He is committed to pre-treating all 100 miles of road maintained by the County in the basin, and has set a goal of reducing salt application from 250-400 pounds of salt per lane mile each storm to 100-150 pounds. He’s also expanding the effort county-wide.
“My crews all see the value in it, and the Board of Supervisors is fully on board,” Kevin says. “The Supervisors are pushing me to the nth degree. We have to protect those wonderful lakes we have.”
The Town of Lake George was the first municipality to become SWiM® certified, and has reduced its winter road maintenance costs by approximately 50% per year.
Rob Vopleus, a 14-year veteran of the town’s Highway Department recalls being a bit skeptical when first presented with the anti-icing idea at a meeting five years ago. Then he stayed up until after midnight exploring the topic online. “I went home and researched it, and I haven’t stopped since,” he says. “Once I saw the advantages of it, there was no holds barred after that. Everyone should be doing it.”
Rob’s enthusiasm and expertise have made him arguably the region’s leading ambassador for the Salt Reduction Initiative and earned him a promotion from the town to Winter Maintenance Specialist.
“We’ve achieved a lot, but we’re not stopping,” he says. “I have two young daughters. If I can do something to let them experience what I got to experience as a kid — boating and swimming on Lake George — that’s what’s important.”