GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — People living on Church Lake say road salt is hurting water quality and killing fish.

The Grand Rapids neighborhood has commissioned the GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute to investigate with the goal of determining how the salt is getting into the lake.

Thomas Van Tol, the president of the Church Lake Association, says residents have seen an impact. 

“We’ve lost the deep-water fish because of the salt, so now it’s mainly just panfish,” Van Tol said.

Ellen Foley, a Grand Valley State University graduate student research assistant, has been part of the team collecting samples.

“We’re seeing really high levels of chloride, which is a component of road salt, and we’re also seeing very high concentrations of phosphorous all at the bottom of the lake,” Foley said.

The lake is bordered by Michigan Street NE, East Beltline Avenue NE and Fulton Street E.

Jerry Byrne, the director of operations with the Kent County Road Commission, says plow operators work to use the least amount of salt as possible while balancing the need for public safety on the roadways.     

“In the past 10 years we’ve cut back our salt usage by about 15%,” Byrne said.

The Kent County Road Commission says high volume traffic areas, like the roads surrounding the lake, require more salt. It also says it has improved techniques in recent years.

“The more we remove mechanically the less that needs to be melted off,” Byrne said.

The road commission says there is no simple solution.

“Until the motorist changes that demand, that expectation, it’s really tough for the road authorities to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to just cut back,’” Byrne said.

A photo of Church Lake, which is bordered by Michigan Street NE, East Beltline Avenue NE and Fulton Street E.

Still, people living on the lake are working to figure out exactly where the salt is getting in from with hopes of finding a solution to protect Church Lake for future generations.

“We have to protect our nature around us,” Van Tol said. “We’re so intertwined with all of this that if we don’t we’re going to end up in a bad situation.”