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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Mirror Lake friendly snow removal guidelines

Using the correct snow removal tools can help keep your sidewalk safe and our drinking water clean. (Photo provided — Karolina Grabowska, via Pexels)

In terms of cold weather, it’s been a slow start to the 2021-2022 winter season as evidenced by the sixth latest ice-on date for Mirror Lake since record keeping began in 1903.

December 2021 saw lower snow accumulations compared to historic averages. But recent winter storms such as Izzy over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, coupled with frigid temperatures, minus 29F in Lake Placid on Jan. 21, have ushered in the heart of winter.

With such weather comes the need to remove snow and ice safely and efficiently from our driveways, walkways, sidewalks, and parking lots. By now we hope that you’re aware of the Ausable River Association’s efforts to reduce road salt pollution via the Salt Use Reduction Initiative. Drawing on information from that effort, here are some guidelines for removing snow and ice from surfaces in a way that protects our freshwater resources.

Plan ahead and prepare. Stay tuned to local weather forecasts to have a clear idea of snow predictions. The best and most efficient way to remove snow is to sweep, shovel, plow, and blow it early and frequently. This may mean that you’re spending some time during the storm on these removal efforts or partnering up with a friend or family member to share the labor. Additionally, try to remove snow before walking or driving on it, as compacted snow will stick to hard surfaces and make it more difficult to remove.

Use the correct tools. Modern snow shovels with metal edges and ergonomic handles help you scrape various types of snow from surfaces more effectively while protecting your back in the process. A well-maintained snow blower can make the job much easier and save you valuable time outdoors during the storm. Sturdy ice chippers with a metal blade work well for removing hard packed snow and ice built up through compaction or over time.

Leverage the weather. The sun does an excellent job of melting snow and ice, even on sub-freezing days. When using snow and ice-removal tools, maximize the sun’s energy by waiting until surfaces warm up, often during mid-afternoon, before you chip away at ice or shovel packed down snow. Move your vehicles out of the driveway to create larger surface area of sun exposure and soften the chunks of snow that have fallen off tires and car underbodies.

Consider light sanding for traction. Despite our best efforts, we don’t always have the time or resources for an ideal snow and ice clearing schedule. Once these materials have built up, consider dispersing a thin layer of sand over surfaces to minimize slips and falls. Sand’s dark color will also absorb sunlight and melt material faster. In the spring, be sure to sweep up sand for use in subsequent years. Sand that washes into our streams and lakes can choke wildlife habitat and adversely impact our fisheries.

Use salt alternatives for melting. Sodium chloride, or rock salt as it’s often advertised, is the most common form of chemical deicing on the market. However, sodium and chloride can be harmful to our ground and drinking water and the habitats of our native plants and wildlife. Consider liquid alternatives (such as a brine solution), or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). CMA breaks down quickly in soils and is less harmful to aquatic ecosystems, though downsides still exist. More details, including pros, cons, and warnings about the two above options, can be found on our website: ausableriver.org.

By following these simple snow and ice removal guidelines, you can maintain safer driveways, walkways, sidewalks, and parking lots and help protect our freshwater environments. Another way you can help is by filling out our forthcoming salt survey. This survey is specific to residents and businesses in the Chubb River watershed that surrounds the village of Lake Placid. Getting your input will help us quantify salt use around Mirror Lake and prioritize future salt reduction efforts.

Stay tuned to ausableriver.org/programs/salt-use-reduction-initiative for more details and keep an eye out in March 2022 for the survey release date.

Thank you for helping us make a difference for community safety and the freshwater ecosystems of the Lake Placid region and beyond. Stay safe, healthy, and warm this winter.

(Tyler Merriam is the donor outreach manager for the Ausable River Association. This column was adapted from a 2016 blog post on the association’s website.)