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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Mirror Lake watershed salt use survey planned

Leanna Thalmann of the Ausable River Association and Lija Treibergs of the Adirondack Watershed Institute sample Mirror Lake at the continuous monitoring buoy. (Photo provided — Alice Dong)

For the past seven years, we’ve conducted intensive monitoring of Mirror Lake, making it part of our core water quality work at the Ausable River Association.

In 2014, AsRA’s science staff first documented elevated chloride concentrations in the bottom waters of Mirror Lake. In 2015, we determined the lake was no longer turning over reliably in spring. This disruption in turnover is due to the use of salt for deicing surfaces such as roads, sidewalks and driveways throughout the watershed. Salt used on these impermeable surfaces is readily mobilized as snow melts and moves overland and into stormwater drains leading to Mirror Lake. The heavy salt-laden water sinks to the deepest part of the lake and, due to its density, can disrupt spring turnover. Turnover is essential to redistributing oxygen and nutrients in a lake. Without it, the lake is vulnerable to toxic algae blooms and fish kills — events that would be devastating for the Lake Placid community and for the dense web of ecosystems and aquatic life that call it home.

In response to the lack of turnover, we launched the five-year Salt Use Reduction Initiative in 2020. This program is tailored to Mirror Lake and relies on scientific, municipal, state agency, business and nonprofit partners. Our goal is to reduce salt concentrations to the sustainable levels documented in the 1970s and restore the natural processes essential to the health of the lake.

Four interrelated efforts make the Salt Use Reduction Initiative effective. First, AsRA and its partners have built a sophisticated water quality monitoring network. Second, we’ve brought cutting edge winter road maintenance technology. Third, we’ve brought expert advisers on industry best practices in tracking salt use and reductions to the town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid. And fourth, we are engaging the community, providing information and tools, and inspiring people to be part of the solution.

Part of our response plan includes collecting data on private and residential salt use in the Mirror Lake watershed. It’s a critical piece of the puzzle for protecting the lake. Starting this autumn and throughout the winter, we will be gathering data from the community and we need your help.

If you live or maintain a business around Mirror Lake, AsRA’s staff, board and volunteers from the Lake Placid community will be reaching out to you by mail, email, over the phone or coming door to door. We’ll be asking you to help us track salt use on your driveway, walkways, and other paved surfaces on your property. We’ll provide you with a survey form — digitally or on paper — to aid in your data collection. For those residents with lots of surfaces to keep clear, we will work with you or your contractor to track usage throughout the winter.

The information we collect from the survey will help us calculate the total amount of salt used on private properties within the watershed. It’s important to note that the survey has no right answers; instead, it’s critical that it captures actual use. Gathering salt use data from private landowners will augment our data collection at the state and municipal levels and help pinpoint the reductions in use that will secure the health of the lake.

The Ausable River Association thanks the community for its ongoing support of the Salt Use Reduction Initiative and for your efforts to protect Mirror Lake. It’s up to us to keep Mirror Lake from further declines, reduce salt inputs and restore the natural process essential to the lake’s health.

Visit our website at ausableriver.org for more information. To receive our salt survey electronically, email us at Salt@ausableriver.org.

(Leanna Thalman is a water quality associate for the Ausable River Association.)