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GIVING BACK: Group says new weather station would help assess Mirror Lake salt pollution

September 28, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Over the past few decades, the amount of road salt runoff that has entered Mirror Lake has increased greatly. This past year, Lake Placid, among many other areas in the North Country, seemed to have reached a peak of awareness and research on the topic of road salt affecting public bodies of water.

Ausable River Association Science and Stewardship Director Brendan Wiltse said properly testing Mirror Lake goes beyond just taking water samples.

"For us to better understand Mirror Lake," he said, "we need to understand the weather around Mirror Lake."

Article Photos

Mirror Lake, downtown in the village of Lake Placid, is seen in November of 2017. News photo — Griffin Kelly

The Ausable River Association is currently accepting donations for a weather station in the proximity of Mirror Lake. The goal is to reach $2,500 by the end of October, and the association has just about reached the halfway point.

Lake Placid has multiple weather stations that can be seen on Weather Underground, but the closest to Mirror Lake and downtown is at the Lake Placid Elementary School on Old Military Road, about a mile-and-a-half away.

Sodium chloride hinders lake turnover, a process in the spring and fall when lake water circulates, making it the same temperature all throughout. When turnover doesn't occur, the temperature is not consistent, plants die, and fish populations decrease. Mirror Lake did not turn over this spring, according to the association.

Wiltse said the weather station is integral for understanding weather in Lake Placid and the effects of road salt on Mirror Lake.

"Currently, there are no weather stations in the downtown area of Lake Placid," Wiltse said. "With this station, we'll be able to measure things like wind speed, air temperature, barometric pressure and precipitation. A windy day in spring should help lake turnover, and if data shows that it's not, then salt is a factor."

Mirror Lake is one of the village's premier locations for locals and visitors, Wiltse said.

"It's a destination for swimmers, and we have plenty of events that take place there," he said. "The data this station can provide will be for the good of the public."

The station, which Wiltse said looks like a slim pole, will most likely be positioned on the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort. The hotel already houses the association's camera with a live feed of the lake. Since the camera was introduced, 35,000 people have watched 16,000 minutes of live footage, according to Wiltse. A separate water sensor module will be attached to a Golden Arrow dock. The data received by both devices will also be available to the public.

"We haven't yet decided on all the places you can find the data," Wiltse said, "but is probably one site we'll send it to. And we'll also have the data and camera feed embedded on our website."

Another advantage to the weather station is the ability to track climate change for years to come. Mirror Lake has one of the oldest logs for recording ice overs and thaws in New York, dating back to the early 1900s.

"There's been a significant shift in ice-ons and offs over the past 100," he said. "Mirror Lake is freezing later in the year now, and the total time frozen has dropped 26 days. We want to make sure that information continues to move forward."

Salt near Mirror Lake is a bit of a tricky situation because the state Department of Transportation uses straight salt to keep roads deiced while the village and town of North Elba use as little as they can. Though Main Street runs right through the village and many parts of it are maintained by the village, it is a state highway and therefore plowed by DOT.

"The DOT has sort of one prescription for ice and snow, and that's applying full salt," Wiltse said. "They plow and apply salt. The town and village apply a mix of sand and salt."

That ratio is typically about 93 percent sand to 7 percent salt.

"However," Wiltse continued, "sand can also be hazardous if not managed properly."

Sand has the potential to provide too much sediment on lake bottoms and disrupt fish habitats.

"We imagine that the data from the weather station can be used as a tool when state, town, village or private residents and businesses are looking to apply salt," Wiltse said. "They should be able to have better predictions."

Because salt has become such a topic of interest recently, Wiltse said efforts to limit its use have strengthened.

"The state is starting a pilot program through the village and down state Route 86 toward Wilmington," he said.

DOT plans on using salt brine for pre-snowfall anti-icing, a plow with a blade that can remove more ice and snow, and GPS systems to track storms. They'll still use straight salt but will try to use it more efficiently. However, this pilot program seems similar with already established DOT practices.

"North Elba recently purchased a Live Edge snow plow, specifically for plowing the north end of Mirror Lake Drive," Wiltse added.

Live Edge plows have long, convex shapes that can push more snow with less horsepower.

The village plans to do a major overhaul of Main Street in the spring of 2019. One element would add bioretension basins at the foot of Saranac Avenue that filter water through the soil rather than pumping it into Mirror Lake. Also, multiple businesses owners in Lake Placid have agreed to not use salt when clearing their parking lots and sidewalks.

"I think the reception of what we're learning by studying the lake is well received by the locals living around the lake and by the local government officials," Wiltse said. "It shows people how they can better manage road, parking lots and sidewalks in order to protect the lake."



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