So snow has arrived, a little at least. (And we know more will come.) In the last post, we explored why the snow is beneficial to the Lake. But what about the way we humans remove snow from walkways, roads and parking lots?
Snow removal is a fact of life for all of us here in Lake George. How can we remove snow AND continue to protect our water quality? How can we keep our drinking water clean and crystal clear? In this blog post, and my next one, I’ll discuss lake-friendly ways to deal with snow and ice.
Minimizing Road Salt – Using Alternatives
Did you know that the salt levels in the south end of Lake George have more than doubled in the past 20 years alone? Almost all the chloride in road salt eventually finds it was into waterways, either by direct run-off or through the soil and groundwater, threatening freshwater plants, fish and other animals, as well as our clean drinking water supply. So we certainly need to do what ever we can to minimize and/or eliminate our use of road salt (sodium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and ferrocyanide salt).
As an alternative to traditional salt products, you could consider using a product such as Magic Salt. (It’s used commercially but also available in small quantities for residential use. The picture here, from the Magic Salt website, shows how much better Magic Salt can be for roadside plants.) Products like Safe Pet Ice Melter, Safe Step’s “Sure Paws” and Safe Paw, are marketed primarily as pet-friendly products, but are also better for the environment. (The LGA doesn’t endorse any of these products… I’m just letting you know they exist!)
The village of Lake George started using Magic Salt in 2009. It works in temperatures as low as -30° and less of it is required for effectiveness. (Its application rate is 30%-50% that of traditional salt.) The village of Lake George reported using 50% less de-icing material in 2009-2010 with Magic Salt. This year the NYS Dept. of Transportation started testing an alternative product on the Warren county state roads closest to the lake. The product contains magnesium chloride and because it activates quicker, less of it is needed.
The Wise Water Use website urges users of de-icing products to always check the label before purchasing a product. Calcium magnesium acetate, potassium acetate, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium chloride are better than standard rock salt (sodium chloride.) Here’s a chart from the Wise Water Use website that compares these products:
Shovel as soon as possible – and continue shoveling throughout a storm
One way to avoid the need for de-icers altogether is to shovel (or sweep if the snow is light!) as soon as possible, and to continue shoveling during big storms. With less time to get tromped down and hard, and less time to melt and freeze, the snow won’t turn into ice, and you won’t need products to melt it!
Consider alternative ways to create traction
If all you need to do is increase your traction, (and you don’t need to actually melt the ice or snow), consider covering surfaces with these alternatives, each with their own advantages and disadvantages:
– Natural, biodegradable cat litter can provide traction, but some say it can be messy to clean up after in the spring.
– Sand is a better alternative than rock salt, but it still easily washes into waterways, carrying unwanted nutrients, affecting stream life, clogging drains and causing flooding. Also, its abrasive particles, when tracked into a home, can damage wood flooring and carpet.
– Some people also recommend sawdust, shredded corn cobs, peanut hulls, gravel, straw and wood chips.
Have any of you tried alternative methods to increase traction? Which do you think work the best?
Reduce the number of areas that need de-icing
Another strategy to be used, especially by commercial businesses, is to eliminate access to any areas that don’t need to be used, and to refrain from removing the snow and ice in those areas. (i.e. If you are a motel owner you may not need to operate all of your rooms during the winter. But you’ll want to make sure to check with the fire dept. to ensure they can still access areas they would need to in the event of a fire.) If you are a home owner, maybe during the winter everyone uses just one entrance into the home.
And if there is a large parking lot or open surface somewhere that needs snow removal, and it tends to suffer from lots of drifting snow, trees and bushes can be placed strategically to act as a natural snow fence.
Please make sure to catch our next post to learn about more lake-friendly methods for snow removal! We’ll check out some “off-the-beaten” methods you may not have thought of, such as installing permeable pavement or radiant heat and commercial ice melters.