• 19 Jul 2017 12:28 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Overlap is working with the Region of Waterloo to develop a salt reduction plan to protect the region’s water quality.  We are interested in hearing from you—a current or future Smart About Salt member—about your winter salt use.  Please contact Patrick Boot of Overlap at for more information about this initiative.

  • 12 Jun 2017 10:15 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    'Not having the information to measure the actual health of a majority of watersheds is extremely concerning'

    By Margo McDiarmid, CBC News

    Canada may be home to 20 per cent of the world's freshwater, but there is no national system to collect or share information about the health and quality of Canada's watersheds, according to a new national assessment of Canada's rivers. 

    The report by WWF-Canada warns that Canada's watersheds are facing serious threats from pollution, climate change and loss of habitat.

    "I think that's a result that Canadians, when they learn it, will be deeply concerned about," said David Miller, president of World Wildlife Fund-Canada in an interview with CBC News.

    "We have a pretty good handle on what the threats are and potential impacts of those threats, so not having the information to measure the actual health of a majority of watersheds is extremely concerning."

    Canada has five major ocean watersheds: the Arctic, the Atlantic (which includes the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River), Hudson Bay, the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. Major rivers in these regions drain into those ocean watersheds. Major rivers are fed by smaller rivers called sub-watersheds. 

    The study looked at 167 sub-watersheds. It found that almost two-thirds are lacking in the crucial information needed to get a basic picture of water quality and river health.

    Lack of complete data

    The report singles out areas that are particularly short of detailed information: the North and South Saskatchewan watersheds, the Peace-Athabasca watershed and, surprisingly, the Great Lakes and the Ottawa River.

    The lack of information is "surprising, considering these watersheds are home to a significant portion of the country's population, industry, agriculture and well over 100 at-risk species," said the report.

    Miller says part of the problem is a lot of water testing and monitoring is hit and miss.

    "It's a very patchy system," he said. "For example, if the urban area of Calgary is measuring the health of the Bow River, but upstream is not being measured, you don't have a proper and full picture."

    WWF-Canada was able to get information about the health of 67 sub-watersheds from some publicly available sources including universities and Statistics Canada.

    That data showed about 60 per cent have poor or fair water quality. One third had their flow interrupted by dams, roads or railways.

    Threatened by pollution, loss of habitat

    The report also looked at threats facing the 167 sub-watersheds. It found that one third of rivers have high or very high levels of stress. They are being damaged by pollution, by the loss of habitat often caused by homes and buildings constructed too close to the water and by climate change. 

    A spokesperson for federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says water is a shared responsibility. Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers said in an email that the federal government works with provinces, territories and municipalities and Aboriginal people to protect water.

    She added that the government of Canada has invested millions of dollars into freshwater protection in the last two budgets.

    That includes $197.1 million in 2016 to increase ocean and freshwater research, $3.1 million to improve shore and ecosystem health in the Great Lakes and $70.5 million in the 2017 budget to protect water in the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg basins. The federal government also has an 11-year plan to improve wastewater systems across the country.

    "Our government has a comprehensive approach to help ensure clean, secure and sustainable water resources for present and future generations," said Des Rosiers.

    Need a way to track water quality

    But WWF-Canada's Miller argues one national system is needed to properly track the health of fresh water and the impacts from human activity.

    "Like most Canadians, I have an image of our  country as a haven of fresh water," said Miller. "When I started canoeing I could dip my cup in a lake in Algonquin Park and I could drink it without treating it and that's not true anymore." 

  • 31 May 2017 1:09 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Date:May 31, 2017

    Source:Virginia Tech

    Summary:Routing runoff contaminated with road salts to stormwater ponds actually resulted in plumes of highly contaminated groundwater moving from the ponds to streams, report scientists.

    In winter, most municipalities rely on chemicals to melt ice and keep roadways and parking lots clear and safe for travelers. The most common chemical used, owing to its low cost and its effectiveness at low temperatures, is sodium chloride, commonly referred to as road salt.

    Researchers at Virginia Tech and Towson University in Maryland are concerned that the types of chemicals used to treat roads in winter, particularly road salts, are not being effectively absorbed by soil and plants as intended by mitigation measures and may be reaching waterways.

    Stormwater management practices are designed to intercept water runoff from roads and parking lots before pollutants reach surface waters. Detaining runoff in retention ponds can reduce flooding, increase the amount of water that is absorbed into the ground, and allow pollutants to bind to sediments in the ponds or be absorbed by algae and plants instead of traveling to streams and wetlands where they may harm wildlife and human health.

    The research team recently completed a study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, to determine how well current stormwater management practices mitigate the effects of road salts and how those salts might be impacting both the surface waters in streams and ponds, and the groundwater that many citizens using well systems rely on daily.

    "We know that surface waters in many areas are becoming more saline and that salt levels have been rising steadily for at least the past 30 years in reservoirs that provide water for Baltimore," said Joel Snodgrass, professor and head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment. "However, we know little about the effectiveness of stormwater management practices in reducing inputs of salt to surface waters."

    The researchers tested water samples from stormwater ponds in Baltimore County and surface waters in the county's Red Run watershed to compare the concentrations of sodium and chloride ions in groundwater between stormwater ponds and streams.

    Water in the ponds gradually soaks into the ground and moves downslope toward streams. If the stormwater ponds were working effectively, Snodgrass explained, he and his team could test the groundwater between the ponds and streams and expect to find very little sodium chloride because it would have been retained in the ponds.

    In fact, the opposite seemed to be true. The researchers discovered that routing runoff contaminated with road salts to stormwater ponds actually resulted in plumes of highly contaminated groundwater moving from the ponds to streams.

    In addition, high levels of contamination were not only present during winter months but in the summer months as well, meaning that some of the road salts are being retained within the groundwater close to the surface and released to streams little by little.

    "Current stormwater management practices may help slow the movement of road salts to streams, but they don't completely stop it from getting there," Snodgrass explained. "On top of that, the road salts are entering these bodies of water in a fashion that causes salt levels in streams to remain elevated year-round."

    Elevated salt levels in groundwater and surface waters can have negative impacts on wildlife and humans. If salt levels continue to increase in freshwater areas, many fish and amphibians will stop breeding and eventually die because their bodies cannot adjust to the change.

    "You're basically putting these animals in a desert, because they can't regulate the salt in their bodies and get enough water to balance it out," Snodgrass said.

    On the human side, added salt in the water system can change the taste and color of well water and eventually cause wells to stop providing potable water.

    "People may end up drinking water containing sodium levels that exceed those recommended for people on low-sodium diets. Municipal water supplies may also become contaminated and require treatment to lower sodium and chloride levels before distribution," Snodgrass said.

    There are also economic implications to consider.

    "Some counties are already reimbursing people for the costs associated with replacing contaminated water wells," he added.

    So what can be done?

    According to Snodgrass, the answer is complicated. More research will have to be conducted to analyze the costs and benefits associated with using road salts. Snodgrass and his team plan to continue researching how road salts and other chemicals affect wildlife and the environment, while other researchers are exploring the effectiveness of alternatives to road salts and their potential effects on the environment and human health.

    "It's a balance sheet we're looking at between economics and the environment and human health," Snodgrass said. "This is a complex problem that's going to take an interdisciplinary team to tackle, including sociologists, economists, and chemists, as well as biologists and ecologists."

    Story Source:

    Materials provided by Virginia Tech. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

    Journal Reference:

    1. Joel W. Snodgrass, Joel Moore, Steven M. Lev, Ryan E. Casey, David R. Ownby, Robert F. Flora, Grant Izzo. Influence of Modern Stormwater Management Practices on Transport of Road Salt to Surface Waters. Environmental Science & Technology, 2017; 51 (8): 4165 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03107

  • 04 May 2017 2:03 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    As part of its ongoing efforts to educate about freshwater resources the Region of Waterloo has developed a new video themed around winter maintenance. View it now online at

  • 12 Apr 2017 12:02 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road salt in runoff from melting snow is threatening the health of freshwater lakes, according to a new study in eastern North America

  • 12 Apr 2017 9:00 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Salt might make our roads safer, but it's also threatening hundreds of lake ecosystems around North America.

    Lakes near roads or parking lots are the most at-risk, but even a small amount of pavement close by increases a lake's salination, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The study looked at 371 freshwater lakes in the Midwest and Northeastern U.S. It found that as little as one per cent of impervious land cover — roads, sidewalk or any other hard surface that prevents salt from soaking into soil — meant that a lake would have a high chloride concentration. Over the past few decades, 44 per cent of the studied lakes got saltier.

    “These results are likely an underestimation of the salinization problem, as a number of regions with heavy road salt application, such as Quebec or the Maritime provinces of Canada, had no long-term lake data available,” study co-author Sarah Bartlett said in a release from the University of Madison-Wisconsin.

    Road salting became a standard practice in the '40s, the study notes. Over the following 50 years, the amount of salt used in the U.S. increased from 0.15 metric tons per year to more than 18 million.

    In Canada, an average of five million metric tons of road salt was used every year between 1995 and 2001.

    In the U.S., 27 per cent of large lakes are surrounded by at least one per cent of roadway or sidewalk, meaning that they are at a high risk of hurting local ecosystems, drinking water and fisheries. The study estimated that 7,770 lakes are in trouble across North America.

    Salty drinking water can hurt people with kidney disease, and lakes with high salinity slowly kill off freshwater fish.

    Cities trying to use less salt

    The study recommended that local jurisdictions set up long-term monitoring to keep freshwater lakes "fresh."

    Canada's government published a code of practice for reducing the use of road salts in 2004.

    Toronto reduced its salt use by a mean of 37,000 tons over two years after implementing a new training program for employees. Municipalities like Cowansville, Que., and Williams Lake, B.C., have started using beet juice to reduce the salt's environmental impact.


    However, cities aren't the only problem.

    “What I don’t think people realize is that a large quantity of road salt – in some areas more than 50 percent – is applied by private citizens and businesses, to sidewalks and parking lots, and there has to be an effort to reduce this load as well," researcher Hilary Dugan told the University of Madison-Wisconsin.

  • 11 Apr 2017 6:19 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Melting snow from roads and parking lots is threatening thousands of lakes in North America.  

    A new study of 371 lakes in eastern North America shows they're getting saltier because of runoff from the salt used to melt winter snow and ice.

    Canadian Hilary Dugan, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was lead author of the study.

    Dugan said the study found that the closer a lake is to roads or parking lots, the greater the threat to the quality of the lake water. Even a small amount of pavement causes salt to run off and seep into the ground and eventually get into the lake.

    "I really thought you'd have to be in a dense urban environment to see that result, but surprisingly little urban environment impacts these lakes," said Dugan in an interview with CBC News.

    "You think about driving in rural and remote environments and as you are driving you can see lakes beside the highway, and just the presence of that highway puts those lakes at risk."

    The study is the largest of its kind so far into the effects of road salt on lakes.

    It was conducted by 15 researchers who are part of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The study looked at lakes in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ontario, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. Quebec and the Atlantic provinces were left out because they didn't have enough long-term lake data to be included in the study.

    The research did not include the Great Lakes, which have already been the subject of multiple studies.

    The researchers looked measurements of chloride (salt) levels in lakes that have been collected by federal, provincial and state governments for a least a decade.

    They compared that data with remote lakes that aren't close to roads.

    "Almost all of the lakes situated near a major roadway showed long-term increases in chloride concentrations," said Dugan. 

    "When you think about road salt being thrown down on roads or sidewalks or parking lots, once that road salt is applied in the environment, it's not removed. It's either stored in the soil or it's going to be flushed into nearby streams and rivers and lakes."

    "So any road salt is eventually going to end up in our waters."

    Lake Simcoe salt levels show fivefold increase

    Dugan points to Ontario's Lake Simcoe as example. In the 1970s, the large lake had a salt concentration of 10 micrograms of chloride per litre of water. It's now 50 micrograms per litre — a fivefold increase. 

    "Lake Simcoe is huge, it covers 750 square kilometres, and so you can imagine that if we are talking about a small lake, one that's only a kilometre or less in area, you can rapidly increase chloride concentration over one hundredfold what its background concentration would be."

    The study predicted that if the results were extrapolated to all the water bodies in the North American lakes region, about 7,770 would be at serious risk.

    Saltier lakes can affect the entire water ecosystem, from the fish to the invertebrates they eat to tiny plankton. Salt can also make the lake more susceptible to invasive species and harmful forms of algae. Dugan said it takes a lot of salt to kill a lake, but a small amount can make it sick.

    Canada reducing road salt use

    It's estimated that 23 million tonnes of salt based de-icer are applied to North American roads every year. Environment Canada estimates that between 1½ and four million tonnes are used in Canada every winter, depending on the severity of the weather. 

    Since 2001, Canada has been trying to reduce the use of road salt, installing a voluntary code of best practices to get municipalities and cities to cut down. About three-quarters of all municipalities have adopted the code.

    For example, Toronto has managed to reduce its use of road salt by 25 per cent.

    But a lot of people still aren't thinking of alternatives, said Lee Gould, executive director of Smart About Salt, a non-profit group set up to encourage alternatives to winter salt.

    "It's not uncommon for people to expect bare tarmac in January and February," said Gould in an interview with CBC News. 

    Gould said a lot of private business and shopping malls employ "outdated practices," such as applying salt and chemical de-icers to get rid of snow instead of simply plowing it.

    He said the key is get people to think about how much salt they're using and when. 

    Dugan said most municipalities are doing a good job of that. The problem is homeowners and private businesses.  

    "In many cases more than 50 per cent of what is applied is actually put down by private citizens and businesses and that is the road salt that you see piling up on sidewalks and parking lots.

    "So we need to better educate ourselves in understanding that it takes very few salt crystals to effectively melt snow and ice." 

    The study concludes that if the current practices don't change, many lakes in eastern North America will surpass the scientifically recommended safe salt level within 50 years.

  • 11 Apr 2017 6:16 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Salting of roads in winter helps drivers navigate snow and ice, but the runoff may be irreparably damaging freshwater lakes in the United States and Canada, researchers warned Monday.

    Most of the 371 North American freshwater lakes in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest and Ontario province are showing an increase in salinity from chloride runoff, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    And if the trend continues it could doom aquatic life and reduce water quality, limiting the supply of drinking and irrigation water, the researchers said.

    The picture is sobering," said lead author Hilary Dugan, a freshwater specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    "We compiled long-term data, and compared chloride concentrations in North American lakes and reservoirs to climate and land use patterns, with the goal of revealing whether, how, and why salinization is changing across broad geographic scales," Dugan said in a statement.

    "For lakes, small amounts of shoreline development translate into big salinization risks."

    Each lake studied was larger than four hectares and had at least 10 years of chloride data.

    The majority (284) of the lakes were located in the North American lakes region that includes 10 U.S. states -- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin -- as well as Ontario province.

    The use of road salt to keep winter roads navigable has been rising since the 1940s. The researchers determined that each year, some 23 million metric tons of sodium chloride-based de-icer are applied to North American roads.

    - Underestimated problem -

    Much of that road salt washes into nearby water bodies, becoming a major source of chloride pollution to groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes.

    To measure the quantities of road salt applied to roadways and other impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and sidewalks, the researchers evaluated road density and land cover within a 100- to 1,500-metre buffer around each of the study lakes.

    Their findings were clear: roads and other impervious surfaces within 500 meters of a lake's shoreline were a strong predictor of elevated chloride concentrations in the water.

    When the results of the study are extrapolated to all lakes in the North American lakes region, some 7,770 lakes may be at risk of rising salinity.

    If the escalation in salinization continues, it said, many lakes will exceed in the next 50 years the aquatic life threshold criterion for chronic chloride exposure set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 230 milligrams per liter.

    According to the study, 14 lakes are expected to exceed the EPA standard by 2050, and 47 are on track to reach chloride concentrations of 100 milligrams/litre during the same time period.

    "These results are likely an underestimation of the salinization problem, as a number of regions with heavy road-salt application, such as Quebec or the Maritime Provinces of Canada, had no long-term lake data available," said co-author Flora Krivak-Tetley, a graduate student at Dartmouth College.

    High chloride levels in lakes have been shown to alter the composition of fish, invertebrates, and the plankton that form the base of the aquatic food web.

    That can reduce aquatic species and, in extreme cases, salinization can cause low oxygen conditions that smother aquatic life and reduce water quality, the study noted.

  • 27 Mar 2017 3:08 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Chloride-based chemicals, known as road salts, play a key role in ensuring safe winter-driving conditions, especially for highways enduring cold and snowy weather. They are widely applied for anti-icing, de-icing, and pre-wetting operations. Traditionally, nominal cost and effectiveness are the major criteria when the Department of Transportation professionals select the chemicals for snow and ice control. However, there are growing concerns over negative impacts that road salts pose on motor vehicles, the transportation infrastructure, and the environment. The corrosion and environmental costs pertinent to road salts amount up to at least $469 per ton on average, and they are often ignored in formulating highway winter maintenance strategies. The magnitude of such hidden costs is significant compared with the nominal cost of using road salts for snow and ice control (approximately three times). Some products for snow and ice control may cost less in regard to materials, labor and equipment, but cost more in the long run as a result of their corrosion and environmental impacts. Therefore, an asset management perspective should be utilized to ensure that any cost savings of winter maintenance practices would not be at the price of deteriorated infrastructure, impaired environment, or jeopardized traveler safety. The crux is to strike the right balance in meeting multiple goals of the highway agency, including safety, mobility, environmental stewardship, infrastructure preservation, and economics. Considerable amount of research is still needed in order to fill the knowledge gap and establish a scientifically robust, defensible decision-making process for highway winter maintenance.

    Xianming Shi, Ph.D. Program Manager, Weather & Winter Mobility Western Transportation Institute Montana State University, Box 174250, Bozeman, MT 59717-4250 Phone: (406) 994-6486 Fax: (406) 994-1697 Email:

  • 19 Mar 2017 8:08 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Each winter, more than 120,000 tonnes of salt is dumped on Toronto pavement.

    By Catherine McIntyre

    Brought To You By Toronto and Region Conservation.

    Nearly every surface of the city was slick with ice when Angela Wallace left home to pick up her children after school on February 7. She was careful as she walked down her stairs but slipped on the final step, striking the back of her head on a wall. Suspecting a concussion, her worries were confirmed in the emergency room. 

    Accidents like Wallace’s are a top concern for property owners fearful of being sued for slip and falls on their icy premises. For that reason, many use exorbitant amounts of road salt to avoid legal repercussions.

    Indeed, keeping sidewalks and roads cleared is critical for the safety of all pedestrians and drivers in the city. But even Wallace, a project manager with Toronto and Region Conservation, will argue that we are collectively overdoing it.

    Every year, more than 120,000 tonnes of salt is dumped on Toronto pavement. And the impact of that sodium chloride, once the ice and snow melts away, can be devastating to our city’s natural and built environments.

    Heavy salt use corrodes steel and rebar inside concrete buildings, it damages asphalt, and is deemed a main culprit behind the crumbling state of the Gardiner Expressway (to say nothing of the wavy white streaks it leaves on your shoes and the stinging in your dog’s paws).

    What’s more, the constant leaching of salt from contaminated soil into the city’s streams and rivers means that Toronto’s waterways are chronically salinated, well beyond normal levels, even in the summer.

    “In highly urbanized area, most of the fish and bugs, if they were sensitive to chloride, they’ve either left or died already,” says Wallace, whose work focuses on watershed monitoring and reporting. She likens aquatic species’ aversion to salty water to humans’ intolerance of the atmosphere of outer space. “Once road salt starts going into the stream, it changes the atmosphere they’re living in. It’s also very dehydrating,” Wallace explains.

    What’s left are hardy organisms that can tolerate urbanized watersheds and their high levels of salt. One sensitive fish of particular concern is the Redside Dace. The minnow is native to North America and, in Canada, it’s only found in Ontario. With more and more urbanization in the province coupled with persistent overuse of road salt, the fish is teetering on extinction.

    It’s not just the watersheds that are affected by corrosive compound. In 2001, Environment Canada released a detailed five-year study on the environmental impact of road salt. They concluded that, at the current levels being used, salt was harmful to freshwater ecosystems, as well as soil, vegetation, drinking water, and wildlife in general. Road salt was designated as a toxic substance. “Usually when you declare a substance as toxic, regulations follow,” says Tim Van Seters, manager of the Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program at TRCA. But that’s not quite what happened. Instead, a multi stakeholder committee created a voluntary code of practice—recommendations, if you will—for the environmental management of salt.

    Since then, many large municipalities across Canada, including Toronto, have developed road management plans. They’ve started measuring the temperature of the roads before salt applications, so they know how much to use and when. They track where they salt using GPS. They rely more on road weather information systems so they can put salt down before the storm starts, and sometimes pre-wet the salt so it sticks to the road more effectively, allowing them to cut down on how much they use.

    While all of this is important for minimizing use, a major barrier remains: the best practices recommendations don’t extend to private property-owners, who are responsible for 40 per cent of the road salt used in Toronto.

    “There’s a fear of liability,” says Van Seters. “Fear that someone might sue a property owner as a result of slips and falls. That pushes up the rates of salt they put down.” Those rates, according to the TRCA, are up to 13 times greater than what’s applied to roads.

    Wallace knows all too well that using salt is critical for public safety. “There’s no way around it,” she says. “But we could be using it much more efficiently.”

    That’s exactly what Van Seters is aiming to do with the Salt Application Verified Equipment Program. The initiative helps give private contractors the tools and knowledge to follow the same best practices the municipalities use: to lower their rates, update their equipment and, most importantly, make sure their machinery is properly calibrated. “You can’t follow recommended rates when you don’t know how much is coming out of your spreader,” says Van Seters. It’s a simple fix that can have enormous impacts on how much salt the city absorbs. In fact, using calibrated salt spreaders that adjust the amount of salt applied according to the truck speed, can reduce the amount of product that’s used by as much as 47 per cent, compared to widely used manual spreaders.

    Van Seters has teamed up with two other nearby conservation authorities, Lake Simcoe and Credit Valley, to launch SAVE pilot programs. The group is also working to merge SAVE with the successful Smart about Salt certification program, which offers salt management training for property owners and contractors across Ontario. The goal, eventually, is to create one certification program for private contractors and facility managers that the province will recognize as meeting the best practices guidelines.

    A handful of municipalities across Canada, including Niagara, have experimented with alternatives to road salt. A mixture of saline, sugar, and beet juice is one popular way to cut down on the stuff, but it’s not a perfect solution. Namely, it’s a pricey alternative and it still contains salt.

    Both Van Seters and Wallace agree that doing away with salt isn’t an option—certainly not any time soon. But simply enforcing best management practice, for municipalities and private property owners alike, can help significantly limit the toxic, yet necessary, substance from seeping into our environment.

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