In The News

Posted on: October 3, 2017

Road Salt and Water Quality

salting stairs

Article by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District

Did you know it only takes one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water? Once salt has entered the water, there is no way to remove it and it continues to accumulate. High levels of chlorides can harm fish, aquatic plants, groundwater, and drinking water.

Each fall, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) partners with Fortin Consulting, Inc to host and provide winter maintenance trainings for public works employees who maintain winter roads and property managers and contractors who maintain parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks. During these trainings, instructors discuss not only how to properly care for pavement in the winter to keep it safe for drivers and pedestrians, but also why it’s so important to keep chlorides (salt-based products) from running down storm drains and entering our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Just in the Twin Cities metro area alone, 39 surface waters exceed the water quality standard for chlorides and an additional 38 surface waters are almost above the standard. Many other waterbodies in the region have yet to be tested. This pollution is directly caused by the use of salt on our winter roads, driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots.snow

The takeaway of the winter maintenance trainings is that we can keep our winter roads safe, while also protecting our water resources. For professionals removing snow and ice, it’s important for them to only apply as much deicer as needed (adding extra doesn’t increase effectiveness), use the right amount at the right time, calibrate equipment annually, check pavement temperatures before spreading, and to watch the weather so they can remove snow early.

The professionals aren’t the only ones who can help keep chlorides out of our water – homeowners can too! For homeowners, some winter maintenance tips are:

  • Remove snow early and often using appropriate tools (broom for light, dry snow; shovel or snow blower for heavier snow). Not only will you have to use less salt or sand, you’ll also avoid compacting the snow and turning it into ice.
  • Pay attention to the temperature. Salt only works at temperatures above 15 degrees F. If you need something that will melt at colder temperatures, use calcium chloride (works down to -20 degrees F) or magnesium chloride (works down to -10 degrees F).
  • More salt does not mean more melting. Adding more salt does not mean the snow and ice will melt more quickly. The extra will just run off with the meltwater. As a rule of thumb, use no more than one pound of salt per 250 square feet (for reference - a 12 oz mug is about one pound of salt and an average parking space is about 150 square feet).
  • Sweep up extra. If salt or sand is visible on dry pavement, it’s not doing anything and will run off. Sweep up the extra and reuse during the next snowstorm.

To learn more about how you can stop chlorides from entering our waters, check out this video: Learn more on MCWD's website:

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