Salt, or sodium chloride, is the most common de-icing material used on New Hampshire’s roads, parking lots, and other paved surfaces in the winter months. Have you ever wondered what happens to all this salt? Could it be going into our rivers, lakes, and aquifers?
While chloride occurs naturally in our water sources, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services reports that testing over the last 25 years has indicated that chloride levels have increased steadily and substantially in some of New Hampshire’s freshwater streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, and groundwater ‐ including well water used for drinking water. While this problem is greater in more developed southern parts of the state, it is important to monitor chloride throughout New Hampshire to establish the current chloride levels in our water bodies and to better understand changes that occur seasonally and over the years ahead. To assist with this, the Center for the Environment at Plymouth State University is working this spring with the Israel River Volunteer Advisory Group on monitoring chloride in the Israel River in Coos County.
The Israel River Volunteer Advisory Group has been collecting water quality data in the Israel River watershed since 2005. Each summer, volunteers from the Randolph, Jefferson, and Lancaster area periodically collect water samples from 12 stations along the river. The data from this monitoring program provide basic understanding of the river’s dynamics, provide an assessment of the river’s ability to support aquatic life and recreation, and establish a baseline from which to determine water quality problems. The Israel River Group has tested chloride levels in the Israel River in the past and the results show the river’s chloride levels are below the minimum standards set by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES). This spring, more frequent sampling is being conducted to better understand the impact of rain-on-snow events, spring warm periods, and snowmelt on chloride concentrations.
Mark Green, assistant professor of hydrology with the Center of the Environment and the US Department of Agriculture’s Northern Research Station, explained, “Typically chloride is measured by analyzing water samples in a laboratory which gives us a measurement for only the day and time of when the water was taken from the river. This spring, in addition to collecting samples approximately every week, we have also put a new sensor in the river that will estimate chloride levels every 15 minutes using electrical conductivity. This additional information will help us better understand the impact of snow melt on water quality.”
Water samples are being collected by Israel River volunteers and Aaron Johnson, manager of the Center for the Environment’s Environmental Research Laboratory. The samples will be analyzed for chloride at Plymouth State University. These data will be compared to the data from the sensor that is currently in the river. The information will be reported to DES and incorporated into their Volunteer River Assessment Program (VRAP), a state wide program that relies on volunteers to monitor New Hampshire’s rivers.
Johnson noted, “Plymouth State is working with DES on expanding in the North Country both VRAP and its related program for lakes, the Volunteer Lakes Assessment Program, by using the Center for the Environment’s laboratory for analyzing water samples. This project is a first step toward also expanding sampling to other times of the year providing more information about New Hampshire’s surface waters.”
Bob Ball, coordinator for the Israel River Volunteer Advisory Group has been working closely with the Center for the Environment on the design and implementation of this project. “We look forward to the results of the study which will give us more information about the Israel River,” said Ball. “A presentation about the results will be made by the Center for the Environment at the Jefferson Conservation Commission meeting on May 18 at 7 pm.”
If you are interested in learning more about this project, VRAP or VLAP, please contact Aaron Johnson at the Environmental Research Laboratory, 603-535-3269, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding for this project was provided in part by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, North Country Region as a sub-award from the Coös County Outreach Initiative of the Center for Rural Partnerships at Plymouth State University.