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  • 04 Mar 2023 3:46 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road salt impacts groundwater year-round - Canada News -

    To reduce hazardous winter driving conditions, highway departments turn to salt de-icers.

    Does road salt affect groundwater? If so, is there a lasting impact that can be measured?

    The Delaware Geological Survey is taking an in-depth look at groundwater quality.

    Rachel McQuiggan, a researcher at the University of Delaware, is monitoring storm water and groundwater at infiltration basins — large, shallow roadside pools that allow water to infiltrate the groundwater.

    Her research was published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, a publication of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America.

    “Groundwater provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide,” says McQuiggan.

    “In central and southern Delaware, groundwater is the only source of potable drinking water. The results of our research should encourage best management practices for de-icer to protect groundwater resources.

    “Most storm water management practices are designed to protect surface waters,” says McQuiggan. “Infiltration basins, and even some types of green infrastructure, are designed with the idea that storm water benefits from a natural filtering of contaminants as it infiltrates through soil, and contaminants dilute as that recharge mixes with existing groundwater.”

    She adds these basins are used to prevent contaminants like salt from being discharged straight into surface water. But in states like Delaware, groundwater contributes up to 80 percent of the water in rivers and streams. This means that salt will eventually reach rivers and streams.

    To evaluate the impact road salt had on groundwater quality, McQuiggan monitored the target infiltration basin from mid-May 2019 to mid-February 2022. Her team saw that geological complexity, such as differences in subsurface soil properties, influenced how salty storm water moved through groundwater.

    The team found that groundwater is impacted by road salt throughout the year, not just during winter. Salt is retained in the soil in the infiltration basin. Road salt is made of sodium and chlorine atoms and chloride, which moves easily in water. Sodium more latches onto soil particles.

    Chlorine is found deep within the Earth’s crust. It is known for forming neutral salts such as potassium chloride, calcium chloride and sodium chloride, also known as table salt.

    Outside of winter, storm water doesn’t contain much salt. It enters the basin and flushes sodium from the soil into the water. The study suggests a higher salt content can cause radium to enter the groundwater.

    “Climate can really impact the timing of how this all plays out. For example, if it’s a particularly dry spring and summer, the sodium takes longer to reach groundwater. In Delaware, snowfall typically melts and runs off the roads within a few days of falling. In colder climates, it can stay frozen for months.”

    There are other de-icers available, but they are not as effective as road salt. Each has its drawbacks. Sand is a popular option to increase traction and minimally affect groundwater, but it requires extra maintenance like street sweeping.

    “There are even carbohydrate de-icers like beet juice. However, most alternatives are used in conjunction with salt or acetate because those are so effective. Road safety is incredibly important.”

  • 02 Mar 2023 6:50 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    No salt brine on roads - Letters -

    n the last two weeks, we have had comparatively dry weather.

    There have been only a couple of light-snow days in the last week. So, why are the roads being heavily sprayed with toxic brine? What is the criteria for spraying this destructive (liquid)? Who makes the call? Was that person’s name on my municipal ballot?

    I certainly did not vote to have my driving curtailed by the threat of my personal vehicle being damaged by this stuff.

    The “safety” aspect of salt application doesn’t wash. Proper winter tires (not all-seasons) and slower driving will work without salt. It seems like the general public has it’s collective head in the sand when it comes to this issue.

    One’s vehicle is a large investment, whether you pay the price for a new vehicle or spend the time and money to maintain an older vehicle. I can understand there is a certain, large demographic in this valley that never keeps a “daily-driver” (vehicle) for more than three years, so the concern for vehicular salt damage is irrelevant. For the rest of us, this amounts to an unauthorized destruction of a personal asset.

    The spraying of brine has become extreme. The excuse trotted out is that brine application is a “prophylactic” measure, to reduce the ice/snow adhering to the pavement. Almost any dry day, those tankers are spraying brine on the roads in anticipation of ice. There is no snow. They get the same weather forecasts that we do. The next day, they are out again, spraying. Is it a quota system?

    There is a document from a partnership of the federal government, the provinces and municipalities, the Transport Association of Canada. The article is called Synthesis of Best Practices Road Salt Management, 1.0 Salt Management Plans. It is large and goes on at length about the appropriate application of salt, whether it’s rock salt or the more destructive cal/mag liquid de-icers.

    The article goes into depth about the destructiveness to the environment, bridges and road infrastructure. Of course, because it is a government initiative, there is no mention of the proven damage to personal vehicles. It also does touch on the damage to commercial vehicles.

    This document includes an education aspect for people who authorize, and operate the salt-application machinery.

    “Understand that chemical should not be applied to dry pavement where drifting snow is not sticking, unless it is necessary as part of a storm response strategy,” it states.

    We rarely get the conditions that qualify as a snow storm. What would normally be a dry road surface is wet with concentrated salt water.

    “Understand when to use, and not use specific chemicals, taking into account pavement temperatures, forecasts, time of day, traffic volumes etc.,” says the article.

    This situation came to a head last week, under sunny, dry skies on a dry road midday, while I was driving my 104-year-old Ford Model T into the Stevens Road roundabout at Westlake Road in West Kelowna.

    The salt truck entered the roundabout ahead of me to my right, and started spraying heavily right in front of me as it exited the roundabout to go south on Stevens Road. There was no snow or ice in the forecast for the next three to four days. I had to perform a fairly drastic maneuver to avoid the salt spray and drove over the roundabout, up the hill to Highway 97 and the perfectly dry pavement to finish my errands.

    Fortunately, the Model T’s high clearance made the manoeuvre easy. I insure this car year-round, but a large part of the winter, the salt-brine sprayers ruin what would be an otherwise enjoyable drive.

    There are considerable studies and documentation about the rapid destruction of vehicle systems, resulting from liquid-salting. Because it is a continuous “bath” of concentrated salt water, vehicles pick it up with their tires and completely soak every surface underneath.

    This stuff goes airborne and kills the effectiveness of windshield wipers and washer fluid. It gets into every crevice on the body (of vehicles).

    Windshield replacement shops are finding dangerous deterioration of the windshield recess and pinch weld areas. Comprehensive insurance does not cover the expensive repairs and resulting loss of vehicle use, while the damaged area is cut out, and replaced. The salt undermines the sealant under the windshield, and can result in the sudden detachment of the windshield.

    Because modern vehicles depend so much on the integrity of the windshield, the hidden damage compromises the structural integrity of the roof and can cause the airbags to deploy outward, instead of protecting the passengers.

    So much for safety, when the so-called safety initiatives that justify salt use cause such damage to vehicle structure, safety, electrical systems and visibility while driving.

    Andrew Kiesewetter, West Kelowna.

  • 02 Mar 2023 6:48 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Scientific test kits give Muskoka volunteers tools to study road salt (

    Volunteers are testing to see how much road salt or chloride is draining as runoff into some Gravenhurst-area lakes.

    The volunteers, Citizen Scientist from the Gull and Silver Lake Residents Association and Probus Gravenhurst, are working with the Friends of the Muskoka Watershed to determine how road salt is impacting the Gravenhurst-area watershed. They are using scientific water quality testing kits provided by Friends of the Muskoka Watershed.

    Studies show that Gravenhurst Bay in Lake Muskoka and Jevins Lake have some of the highest chloride levels of the lakes tested in Muskoka. The low calcium levels in Muskoka’s recreational lakes means that all animal life is sensitive to road salt, and animal life in 20 per cent of the lakes is suffering from road salt.

    Neil Hutchinson, a volunteer director with FOTMW, has been studying local chloride levels and working with volunteers to determine how the chloride is entering the lakes. FOTMW has selected areas where water flows or drains into the lakes and has volunteers testing the chloride level.

    As there are no natural local marine salt deposits in Muskoka, and the lakes with elevated chloride levels all have major winter-maintained highways in their immediate catchments, road salt is the only logical salt source, according to an FOTMW report by Norman Yan.

    This is a pilot project, but FOTMW plans to roll out a larger program across Muskoka starting in the fall. Once data is gathered, to determine how chloride enters the lakes, the next step is to find solutions and modifications that can involve the whole community.

    “We couldn’t do this work without our volunteers,” said Hutchinson. “It is so important to have the community involved, and helping to make a difference.”

    Friends of the Muskoka Watershed is a charity that pairs action-based approaches with innovative science-based solutions to protect Muskoka watersheds.

  • 25 Feb 2023 6:57 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Self-salting roads might one day make winter driving safer | CBC Radio

    Canadians are all too familiar with icy roads and treacherous driving conditions, especially before the snow plows, gritters and salters arrive. But scientists in China have developed a novel additive for asphalt containing embedded salt that enables the road to melt ice on its own.

    The most common material used to melt road ice is rock salt — plain old sodium chloride. In Canada, more than five million tons of salt are spread on roads every year.

    While it is effective at clearing roads of snow and ice, salt has negative effects on roadside vegetation, soil, birds and freshwater ecosystems. Salt-laden runoff water is briny, making it difficult for aquatic life, and it can contaminate groundwater. 

    On top of that, there is the corrosive effect of salt on vehicles and roadways themselves.

    Alternatives to road salt, such as calcium chloride, magnesium chloride or other chemicals, have been used, but many still have environmental effects. And of course, there's a cost to all that salt and the machinery and labour to apply it. 

    Another option, developed over decades and used in some areas, is to incorporate salt into the asphalt mix when the road is laid or resurfaced. This salt is then released when the road is icy – the road essentially salts itself as needed.

    It's a clever idea that's much more complicated than it seems. The salt needs to be mixed with additives to make it release only at appropriate temperatures, at an appropriate rate, and not leave voids in the road-bed that would weaken it and cause the pavement to break down.

    Researchers in China reporting in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Omega have released their study of the latest, improved iteration of this idea.

    They started with a sodium acetate salt – rather than a traditional chloride salt – which is less corrosive, making it kinder to the vehicles and road infrastructure. They encapsulate it in small polymer spheres that are incorporated into asphalt while it is being made.

    The researchers designed the polymer capsules with tiny channels that release salt at a very slow rate, so they estimate a roadway could remain ice resistant for at least eight years. 

    The salt is slowly released onto the surface of the road over time to act as a melting agent that is present before the snow falls. In a real world test, a ramp on a Beijing expressway was covered with a five-centimetre deep layer of treated asphalt and did not accumulate snow as readily as untreated ramps. 

    They also found that if snow and ice accumulate during a heavy storm, a water layer forms between the ice and the road surface that makes it easier to break the ice up, even by regular traffic. 

    An ice-melting road would require less plowing, which translates into lower maintenance costs and less wear-and-tear on the pavement.

    In an attempt to keep the cost of the new material down, the salt was made from industrial biomass by-products, and mixed with waste slag from steel manufacturing to provide a mechanical structure that can withstand the pounding of vehicles. 

    According to the RCMP statistics from 2017, nearly one-third of all vehicle accidents in Canada involve wet, snowy or icy roads, while insurance companies report a nearly 50 per cent increase in claims during December and January. 

    While this self-salting technology is still in the experimental stage, someday, ice-melting roads could contribute to enhancing road safety — especially in this country, where driving on ice is an annual necessity. 

  • 10 Feb 2023 6:28 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Researchers Are Creating Road Salts That Aren't Terrible For the Planet (

    Many people associate a fresh snowfall with pleasures like hot chocolate and winter sports. But for city dwellers, it can also mean caked-on salt that sticks to shoes, clothing hems, and cars.

    That’s because as soon as the mercury dips below freezing and precipitation is in the forecast, local governments start spreading de-icing salts to keep roads from freezing over.

    These salts are typically a less-refined form of table salt, or sodium chloride, but can also include other compounds, such as magnesium chloride and potassium chloride. They work by lowering the freezing point of water.

    De-icing salts also do extensive damage to autos, infrastructure, and the environment. And cities use them in enormous quantities — nearly 20 million tons per year in the U.S. Snowbelt cities in Canada, Europe, and Japan also use de-icing salts heavily.

    But new options are in the works. I am a materials scientist seeking solutions for our overly salted sidewalks by analyzing ways in which the natural world deals with ice.

    Fish, insects, and even some plants have learned to adapt to cold climates over hundreds of thousands of years by making their own antifreeze agents to survive subfreezing temperatures.

    By taking a page from nature, my colleagues and I hope to develop effective but more benign antifreeze compounds.

    Harmful impacts of salt

    As many drivers know too well, road salt reduces cars’ lives by speeding up the rusting process. A 2010 study estimated that the use of de-icing salts costs U.S. drivers US$23.4 billion dollars nationwide yearly in vehicle damage due to corrosion.

    Road salts also damage the surfaces we drive on. They contain chlorine ions — atoms with a negative charge — that alter the chemistry of water and make it more corrosive when it comes in contact with materials like concrete and steel.

    As a result, road salts increase existing strains on aging structures. De-icing salts have contributed to bridge failures and cause cracking and other forms of weathering in highway surfaces.

    De-icing salts have widespread effects in nature too. If you drive along a forested road after a long snowy winter, you may notice that trees next to the road look a little more brown than the others.

    That’s because road salts displace minerals in soil and groundwater, creating a condition known as physiological drought.

    This means that trees cannot take up water through their roots even if it is freely available in the soil. When natural drought conditions already exist, in such places as Colorado, physiological drought can increase the risk of wildfires by making plants more prone to ignition.

    Streams, rivers, and lakes are especially vulnerable to water runoff that contains de-icing salts. Chlorine from the salt can inhibit fish from spawning and reduce dissolved oxygen levels in the water, which harms fish and other aquatic life.

    Salt-laden runoff can also promote the growth of dangerous cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. Some forms of blue-green algae produce toxins that can sicken humans or animals that consume them in drinking water.

    Natural antifreezes

    An alternative de-icing option should be nontoxic and break down into benign components – but not too quickly, or its effects won’t last. To see why this is important, consider propylene glycol, which is used to de-ice aircraft.

    Propylene glycol is preferred for this purpose because it is less toxic than the ethylene glycol that keeps your car radiator from freezing up.

    But propylene glycol’s effects are short-lived, so aircraft typically can wait for only a limited period between de-icing and takeoff.

    This is also why propylene glycol is rarely sprayed on roadways and surfaces. Furthermore, although it is generally classified as safe for humans, it can still be deadly for aquatic life.

    What about natural alternatives? Scientists have found insects and spiders in Alaska that create antifreeze proteins in their bodies that lower the freezing point of water by a few degrees. And some fish, like the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), create antifreeze glycoproteins that prevent the blood in their veins from freezing in the coldest waters on Earth.

    Most of these glycoproteins are delicate structures that break down quickly in the harsh outside world. But my colleagues and I are learning how to make our own antifreeze compounds through imitation. Our first challenge is to learn how the natural versions work so we can re-create them.

    While there’s still much we don’t understand, we are using advanced computer modeling to see how antifreeze proteins interact with water molecules.

    Other scientists have discovered that fish antifreeze glycoproteins contain two main segments, and that certain sections are more essential than others.

    Specifically, small compounds called hydroxyl groups, which consist of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, do most of the work.

    These small compounds lock into place with water molecules, like a key in a lock, to prevent ice from forming. They are also part of most critical sections of the proteins that bind to the surface of any developing ice crystals and prevent them from getting bigger.

    Antifreeze proteins are natural polymers – enormous long molecules consisting of smaller repeating molecules, like links in a chain.

    Re-creating these compounds is no easy task, but we can create our own synthetic versions in a lab, starting with polyvinyl alcohol, or PVA.

    This is a simple, inexpensive compound that is nontoxic to humans and aquatic

    life and is a common ingredient in many everyday personal care products.

    PVA contains the same hydroxyl groups as those found in fish antifreeze proteins. Using a bit of chemical engineering, we can change where those hydroxyls are located in the polymer structure, making it more like the compounds that fish produce.

    In the future, we may be able to change PVA from an everyday compound into an ice-fighting substance that can be used just about anywhere.

    Because PVA doesn’t degrade too quickly, it has the potential to work on surfaces that need to stay ice-free, such as roads, sidewalks and handrails. Its long chemical structure makes it suitable for shaping and adapting into sprays or coatings.

    Someday cities may rely in winter on nontoxic spray-on antifreezes that won’t stain your clothes or corrode your car.

  • 07 Feb 2023 7:30 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Salt, sand, and beets: What's the best de-icing method? - The Weather Network

    Conventional solutions like salt and sand are used to pre-treat roads before they become dangerously slippery. But, the high use of road salts has been linked to environmental problems because salt contains high levels of chloride. About five million tonnes of road salts are used in Canada each year to mitigate ice and snow conditions on roads. However, almost all chloride ions from road salts eventually find their way into waterways, according to the Government of Canada.

    Sand is another popular de-icing method used by many municipalities, used to increase friction between icy pavement and vehicles passing over. But, several studies and municipal evaluations have found sand to be relatively ineffective, according to Lake Simcoe Region, Conversation Authority. One of the main issues is that sand blows off the road with just a few vehicle passes at speeds over 40 km/hr. The biggest drawback is that many municipalities still mix sand with salt.

    So, what about beet juice?

    The beet juice blend works by lowering the freezing temperature of the brine solution which still contains salt, but not as much. While sodium chloride can help pretreat roads at around -7°C, when mixed with beet juice, the sugars help to drop the freezing point even more. As a result, ice shouldn't form unless it’s extremely cold.

    Due to the sticky nature of beet juice, this type of ice melt minimizes the amount of salt that runs off into waterways. It is less corrosive, reuses a byproduct, and is easier on our vehicles, pavement, and plants. The only drawback is that it can leave behind a red mark, but it's not permanent and will not cause property damage.

  • 30 Jan 2023 12:58 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Why desalination won't save states dependent on Colorado River water (


    • States dependent on the drought-stricken Colorado River are increasingly looking toward desalination as a way to fix the river’s deficit and boost water supplies across the western U.S.
    • The search for alternative ways to source water comes as federal officials continue to impose mandatory water cuts for states that draw from the Colorado River.
    • Desalination plants are costly to operate, require enormous amounts of energy and are difficult to manage in an environmentally-friendly way, according to water policy experts.

    States dependent on the drought-stricken Colorado River are increasingly looking toward desalination as a way to fix the river’s deficit and boost water supplies across the western U.S.

    The search for alternative ways to source water comes as federal officials continue to impose mandatory water cuts for states that draw from the Colorado River, which supplies water and power for more than 40 million people.

    Desalination (or desalinization) is a complicated process that involves filtering out salt and bacteria content from ocean water to produce safe drinking water to the tap. While there are more than a dozen desalination plants in the U.S., mostly in California, existing plants don’t have the capacity to replace the amount of water the Colorado River is losing.

    “Ocean water desalination has tremendous allure,” said Robert Glennon, a professor emeritus of law and water policy scholar at the University of Arizona. “The thought is that if we can just get the salt out of the water, everything can be fixed. But it’s a kind of siren song that will turn bad.”

    Desalination plants are costly to operate, require enormous amounts of energy and are difficult to manage in an environmentally friendly way, according to water policy experts.

    The debate over whether desalination could be a solution for the drying Colorado River comes as a historic megadrought grips the western U.S., generating the driest two decades in the region in at least 1,200 years. Water levels in the country’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have hit their lowest levels on record.

    The Biden administration has urged seven states in the Colorado River Basin to save between 2 million and 4 million acre feet of water, or up to a third of the river’s average flow. But water managers say that savings will need to be much more drastic as drought conditions worsen in the basin.

    Kathryn Sorensen, who directs research at the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, said that while there’s been some major progress on water conservation across the West, the Colorado River is severely overallocated and the low reservoir levels are “extremely problematic.”

    “We have been taking more water from the river than Mother Nature can really provide,” Sorensen said. “The river is a super important resource for all of us.”

    The cost of water is high

    Since desalination is a drought-resistant process, some have argued that states with such facilities could make themselves less dependent on water from the Colorado River. But the cost of desalination is high compared to the cost of imported river water and the process requires a great deal of energy to separate salts and other dissolved solids from water.

    Large-scale plants require “tens of megawatts” to operate, according to the Energy Department, and energy consumption is the largest component of the operational expenditures of desalination, comprising about 36% of the total operational expenditures.

    For example, the Carlsbad desalination plant in San Diego, California requires about 35 megawatts of electricity to operate. (By comparison, 1 megawatt is enough energy to operate a small town and 1,000 megawatts is enough to power a midsize city). The plant produces an average daily flow of 50 million gallons, only about 10% of the total drinking water needed by San Diego.

    The cost of desalinated water at Carlsbad is estimated at $2,725 an acre-foot, according to a recent analysis by environmental economist Michael Hanemann of Arizona State University. That’s significantly more than the amount the San Diego County Water Authority pays for water sourced from the Colorado River and the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta. Last year, the Water Authority proposed increasing its rate to $1,579 per acre-foot for untreated water in 2023.

    “Desalination technology has improved greatly and it’s now remotely plausible to do,” said Jay Lund, co-director of the Watershed Sciences Center at the University of California, Davis. “But it’s only plausible if you’re willing to pay a lot of money.”

    Water policy experts have also long debated the possibility of taking water from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, the nearest sea to Arizona. In fact, Arizona officials in December voted to advance the study of a $5 billion project led by an Israeli company to build a plant to desalinate seawater in Mexico and transport it in a pipeline that would cross through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

    The company leading that project said it would deliver up to 1 million acre-feet of water to Arizona, roughly the amount that the central and southern part of the state used from the Colorado River in 2022. The first phase of the plan would be a single pipeline that would transport roughly 300,000 acre-feet of water to Arizona, with future pipes supplying up to 1 million acre-feet.

    If the desalinated water were to cost between $2,000 and $3,000 an acre foot for the Mexico plant, then the cost could potentially total up to nearly $1 billion each year for 300,000 acre-feet of water. And the cost could reach nearly $3 billion per year for 1 million acre-feet of water.

    The environmental costs to desalination

    There are also environmental costs to desalination. In addition to the greenhouse gases emissions produced from the large amount of energy needed to operate, the process leaves behind leftover brine, or concentrated salt water, which can raise the salinity of seawater and damage local marine systems and water quality as a result.

    Brine can contain toxic metals such as mercury, cobalt, copper, iron, zinc and and nickel, as well as pesticides and acids that cause irrevocable changes to the environment.

    “It’s difficult to bring desalination projects to scale because desalination is extremely expensive and there are real problems disposing with the brine that’s leftover,” Sorensen said.

    One study published in the journal ScienceDirect found that brine volumes are greater than most industry estimates, comprising on average a gallon and a half for each gallon of fresh water produced. The authors urged brine management strategies that limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.

    However, the most widespread current practice is to dump the leftover brine back into the ocean, which has led to the death of fish populations and corals as well as damage to seagrasses and fish larvae.

    California regulators last year rejected a $1.4 billion desalination plant in Huntington Beach, citing not only the costs of the water but the hazards to marine life and risks associated with sea level rise and flooding.

    Desalination will be useful in some areas of the country, especially as operating costs come down and more research is done on brine disposal. But water policy experts have suggested alternatives that are currently less expensive and energy-intensive and don’t pose environmental hazards.

    Lund said that fallowing lower value agriculture is a cheaper and better alternative from a national and state perspective, since agriculture uses approximately 80% of the Colorado River’s water. “It’s the cheapest and most sustainable way to bring the system back into balance,” Lund said.

    Reusing wastewater, conserving water and encouraging the reallocation of water are other sustainable solutions to water shortages that should take priority over desalination, Glennon said.

    “Desalination is not a silver bullet. There are immense challenges,” Glennon said. “We can do it, there’s no doubt about that — but it isn’t the only option.”

  • 27 Jan 2023 7:10 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    To salt or not to salt? | Living Green |

    Ice-melting salt is useful in winter but can pollute soil and water

    The United States uses an estimated 20 million metric tons of salt on roads every year.

    In places like the Lake Champlain basin, the long, cold winters mean a lot of salt applied on our roads and sidewalks. But all of that salt can pollute our soils and waters and harm local ecosystems.

    “Road salt can make its way via streams to local lakes and ponds,” said Kris Stepenuck, associate director of the Lake Champlain Sea Grant, a program of UVM that produces scientific work to benefit the Lake Champlain basin. “Once there, it will only accumulate and can cause unsafe — or even toxic — conditions for fish and other aquatic life.”

    What can you do to protect local forests and waterways when using ice-melting salt? Follow these guidelines.

    Check to see if the conditions are right

    Salt depresses the freezing point of water, which makes it effective at reducing ice formation and accumulation on streets and sidewalks in the winter—down to a certain temperature. Sodium chloride, the most common type of road salt, is not effective when the pavement temperature is colder than around 16 degrees.

    So, be sure to check the temperature of the pavement with an infrared thermometer before you salt. If it’s too cold, opt for an alternative such as gravel, sand or even cat litter. These materials will provide extra traction to help prevent slipping while also absorbing more heat from sunlight, which helps melt the snow.

    If your driveway is gravel or dirt, applying salt is even more harmful for the environment and can cause dangerous conditions for driving. Instead, try salt alternatives like gravel, sand or cat litter to increase traction.

    Salt before the snow

    So, you’ve just checked the forecast to see if it’s the right temperature to apply salt and saw a big storm rolling in. What can you do? If you salt before the storm, it provides a buffer between your driveway and the snow, which makes shoveling easier and driving safer.

    Bonus points if you dissolve the salt in water first and spray the mixture on your driveway.

    “Using a 23 percent salt-water solution acts like butter in a frying pan,” Stepenuck said. “This reduces the ability of snow and ice to bond with the surface. Using a salt-water mixture can reduce total salt use and make it easier to plow or shovel after the storm. Plus, since any dry salt you spread must combine with water to minimize ice formation, the mixture can work its magic more quickly than if you spread dry salt.”

    Shovel, then salt

    If you apply salt to your driveway when it already has a layer of snow on it, the salt will need to seep through the layer of snow before it can start working, meaning you would need more salt to keep the driveway free from snow and ice. Instead, shovel first and apply the salt as close to the pavement as you can.

    Use the right amount

    Salt is often spread on driveways and sidewalks without much rhyme or reason, but the amount of salt you use matters. A good rule of thumb is to spread no more than a cup or a cup and a half of rock salt for every 10 sidewalk squares or every two parking spaces. There should be about 3 inches between each of the salt grains.

    Using more than that doesn’t make it more effective, it just allows more salt to runoff into the environment, to be tracked into the house or to damage doors, steps or other structures. And it wastes money.

    If you used too much salt and see it on your driveway or walkways after the snow is gone, sweep it up. You can save it and use it for the next storm. Otherwise, this excess salt will slowly infiltrate into the soil around it or run off your driveway, ultimately polluting a nearby waterway.

    Tell your neighbors

    The best way to increase your impact is to get other people on board. Share these tips with your friends and neighbors so that we can all have a safe and sustainable winter. Happy shoveling!

     For more information, email

  • 25 Jan 2023 7:10 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Settling in for winter: Road salt impacts groundwater year-round | Mirage News

    Research explains the impacts deicers have on groundwater resources

    January 25, 2023 – For many parts of the United States, winter weather can impact road conditions. To reduce hazardous conditions caused by snow and ice, many counties, municipalities, homeowners, and others use deicers. Salt is the most common option to treat roads.

    But how might road salt impact groundwater? Does it have impacts only in winter, or does it have lasting impacts year-round?

    These are key questions that Rachel McQuiggan, a researcher at the Delaware Geological Survey, and colleagues wanted to answer. In their research, they monitored stormwater and groundwater at an infiltration basin. An infiltration basin is a large, shallow roadside pool that allows stormwater to infiltrate into the groundwater.

    The research was published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, a publication of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America.

    “Most stormwater management practices are designed to protect surface waters,” says McQuiggan. “Infiltration basins, and even some types of green infrastructure, are designed with the idea that stormwater benefits from a natural ‘filtering’ of contaminants as it infiltrates through soil, and contaminants dilute as that recharge mixes with existing groundwater.”

    She adds that these are used to prevent contaminants like salt from being discharged straight into surface water. But in states like Delaware, groundwater contributes up to 80 percent of the water in rivers and streams. This means that salt will eventually reach rivers and streams, just on a longer timescale.

    The researchers monitored the infiltration basin from mid-May 2019 to mid-February 2022 to evaluate the impact road salt had on groundwater quality. One aspect of their findings showed that geological complexity, such as differences in subsurface soil properties, influenced how salty stormwater moved through groundwater.

    The researchers explained it is important to consider things like placement, depth, and frequency of monitoring groundwater to get the full picture.

    The team found that groundwater is impacted by road salt throughout the year, not just during winter. This is because the salt is retained in the soil in the infiltration basin. Salt is made of sodium and chlorine atoms, and chloride more easily moves in water. However, sodium more easily latches onto soil particles.

    During other parts of the year, stormwater that does not contain much salt enters the basin and flushes sodium from the soil into the water. The results of the study also suggest that a higher salt content can cause radium to enter the groundwater.

    “Climate can really impact the timing of how this all plays out,” McQuiggan explains. “For example, if it’s a particularly dry spring and summer, then the sodium can take longer to reach groundwater. And in Delaware, snowfall typically melts and runs off the roads within a few days of falling. In colder climates it can stay frozen for months.”

    While there are other deicers available, they are not all as effective as road salt and each has its own pros and cons. Sand is a popular option to increase traction and minimally affect groundwater but could require extra maintenance like street sweeping, says McQuiggan.

    “There are even carbohydrate deicers, like beet juice,” she says. “However, most alternatives are used in conjunction with salt or acetate because those are so effective and road safety is incredibly important. Each option has its pros and cons in terms of impact to the environment and cost.”

    Many cold areas depend on deicer to ensure the safety of drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. The researchers say their work provides direction on how to best monitor the impacts of deicer on groundwater so adjustments can be made if needed.

    “Groundwater supplies almost half of all drinking water worldwide,” says McQuiggan. “In central and southern Delaware, groundwater is the only source of potable drinking water. Hopefully the results of this project will encourage best management practices for deicer use to protect groundwater resources.”

    Funding for this research was provided by the Delaware Department of Transportation. The research team is affiliated with the Delaware Geological Survey and the University of Delaware’s Department of Earth Sciences.

    Journal of Environmental Quality publishes original research, reviews and analyses, and environmental issue articles that address anthropogenic impacts on water, soil, and the atmosphere and pertain to some aspect of environmental quality in natural and agricultural ecosystems.

    The American Society of Agronomy is an international scientific and professional society with its headquarters in Madison, WI. Our members are researchers and trained, certified professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply, while protecting our environment. We work at universities, government research facilities and private businesses across the United States and the world.

    /Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.

  • 23 Jan 2023 6:41 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road salts wash into Mississippi River, damaging ecosystems and pipes (

    This winter has already brought significant snowfall to much of the U.S. Historically, more snow has meant more road salt. It’s an effective way to clear roads — but also brings cascading environmental impacts as it washes into rivers and streams. 

    But amid one powerful winter storm that walloped the Midwest in December, employees from the La Crosse County Facilities Department in Wisconsin did something a little different. 

    As usual, they clocked into work well before dawn to plow the county’s downtown parking lots. They were followed by facilities director Ryan Westphal, who walked each of the lots, checking for slick spots. Finding none, he didn’t lay any salt down on top. 

    That’s a major departure from how he would have handled the situation a few years ago – before their department made the decision to dramatically cut back on salt use to prevent it from flowing into waters like the nearby Mississippi River, which new data show has been growing saltier for decades.

    Under the previous protocol, in Westphal’s words, his crew would have “salted the crap” out of the lots after a snowfall like this, without giving deference to whether they actually needed it. Today, there’s a careful calculation after each time it snows to ensure they’re using just the right amount of salt. 

    Westphal acknowledged that the new way isn’t faster, nor is it easier. If a half-inch of snow falls today, for example, a handful of employees will take a few hours to plow the lots, versus the one employee who could have thrown salt down in an hour. 

    But he said the extra time is worth it. 

    “There’s pretty good evidence that if we continue to use salt at the rate we do now, it’s going to be detrimental to the rivers and lakes eventually,” Westphal said. “We need to do something about it now.” 

    The use of road salt during winter is nothing new for people across the Midwest, particularly in its upper stretches where the presence of snow and ice can linger from December into April. But there’s growing awareness of the harm it can cause to freshwater resources – wreaking havoc on aquatic life, disrupting ecosystems, making its way into groundwater and corroding pipes. 

    New data reveal that levels of chloride – one of the elements that make up salt – have increased by more than a third since the late 1980s across the entire Upper Mississippi River basin, which extends from the river’s headwaters in Minnesota to southern Illinois. Reported increases are even higher at monitoring sites in Wisconsin and Minnesota. And the problem is magnified in smaller rivers and streams that can’t flush the same volume as the Mississippi. 

    There are other reasons for increased chloride in water, like salt from water softeners and the use of potassium chloride fertilizer, but road salt is typically a dominant source in colder states. 

    It’s leading people like Westphal – as well as those in state and federal environmental agencies – to realize a change is needed. 

    The river is getting saltier 

    Unlike other pollutants, chloride doesn’t break down in water over time. In other words, once it’s in, there’s no getting it out. Just a teaspoon of salt can pollute five gallons of water forever. 

    So the increase in chloride in the river isn’t from a recent overabundance of road salt being laid down in the winter months. It has built up over decades. And because it doesn’t break down, it’s all headed down into the Gulf of Mexico. 

    In a forthcoming report on water quality in the upper river, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) found that chloride had increased at least 35% across the basin between 1989 and 2018. All 14 sites on the river where chloride was measured, plus one on the Illinois River, which feeds to the Mississippi, showed increases in the pollutant during that time period, according to UMRBA data. 

    At a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources monitoring site in Lynxville, about an hour south of La Crosse, chloride levels in the river had increased by more than 60% since the 1980s, according to a 2021 study from two Mississippi River water quality specialists with the DNR. 

    And chloride levels in the portion of the river that runs through the Twin Cities metro area increased 81% between 1985 and 2014, according to a 2016 report from the nonprofit group Friends of the Mississippi River. 

    Chloride levels are rising at all 43 DNR river monitoring sites across Wisconsin.

    “It really shows that we’re not on a sustainable path,” said Shawn Giblin, who coauthored the 2021 DNR study. “You can’t keep having 1 to 4% annual increases. You’re eventually going to get to chronic toxicity levels.” 

    The concept of freshwater becoming saltier, known as freshwater salinization syndrome, isn’t unique to the upper Midwest. In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its scientists have been studying the issue because of “dramatic” salt concentration increases in freshwater around the country and globally. 

    Both the EPA and state environmental agencies set limits for when chloride becomes toxic to aquatic life. In Wisconsin, for example, 395 milligrams per liter of chloride in a water body for days at a time is considered chronically impaired, while 757 milligrams per liter, which is instantly toxic to fish, is considered acutely impaired. 

    Though the Mississippi River is under the limit, many smaller tributaries are not. In Minnesota, 50 lakes and streams are considered impaired by chloride, and another 75 have chloride levels near the standard, according to the state’s pollution control agency. In Wisconsin, 51 rivers and one lake are chronically impaired by chloride, DNR data show – most in the southeast part of the state. 

    Ecosystems hurt by high chloride

    High chloride levels can have far-reaching destructive impacts on ecosystems. 

    Salt increases the electric current in a body of water and makes the overall environment less habitable, said Lauren Salvato, who coordinates the water quality program for the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. By adding more and more to the water, the ecosystem starts acting more like an estuary, an area where a freshwater river or stream meets the ocean.

    Toxic amounts of chloride can kill freshwater aquatic plants and animals. That includes zooplankton, microscopic animals that feed on algae. Die-offs can then lead to harmful algal blooms, which have their own adverse effects

    Chloride can also make its way into groundwater, the source of  drinking water for about two-thirds of Wisconsinites and about three-fourths of Minnesotans. Salt’s other component – sodium – can alter the taste of water and could pose health risks for people who are on low-salt diets. 

    Finally, elevated chloride levels can also pose an infrastructure problem, corroding lead and copper drinking water lines and leading to contamination.

    Searching for solutions

    Many municipalities are already experimenting with ways to fix the problem. Brining, where salt is mixed with water before being applied to roads, resulted in a 23% reduction in salt use on average on Wisconsin highways, a 2022 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found. Some places even use beet juice to help the solution work at a lower temperature, since standard road salt is much less effective at temperatures lower than 15 degrees. 

    That can be combined with other techniques, like pre-wetting salt so it doesn’t bounce off roads and using underbody plows, which can remove hard-packed snow better than plows with a front blade. 

    In Minnesota, the state pollution control agency leads a Smart Salting training program to help road salt applicators better understand how too much salt can affect the environment. The training aims to help applicators identify the best balance between ensuring safe traveling conditions and protecting the environment. 

    To date, about 5,300 people are currently certified under the program, said Brooke Asleson, the state’s chloride reduction program coordinator. 

    The idea emerged in 2005, sparked by concern about Shingle Creek, which joins the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and was the first water body in the state to be designated as chloride-impaired about a decade prior. 

    Two years ago, the state made it a requirement for any entity that receives a municipal stormwater permit to get trained on proper salt use and the importance of protecting water quality. Enrollment in the Smart Salting training has significantly increased since then, Asleson said. 

    Some participants simply weren’t aware that they could be using less salt, she said. After implementing techniques from the training, many are able to cut their salt use in half. 

    One other change that could make a difference: protecting people from slip-and-fall lawsuits as long as they follow proper salting guidelines. 

    “Ultimately, the fear (from applicators) is if they don’t put enough road salt down, someone’s going to slip and sue them,” said UMRBA’s Salvato. 

    New Hampshire legislators passed a law in 2013 that gave partial immunity from lawsuits to snow-removal companies that participated in a voluntary training program for applying road salt. Similar bills have been floated in Minnesota – where it’s been proposed but not yet passed – and Wisconsin, where one is currently being drafted.  

    Communicating why it matters

    Advocates for reducing road salt say public awareness is critical. 

    The general public is “mostly unaware” of trends in chloride contamination and the harmful effect it can have on the environment, according to a chloride resolution UMRBA adopted in February 2022. The resolution aims to facilitate upper basin states working together to reduce chloride in the river. 

    The EPA has also convened a group of cold-weather states to help them share information about easing the impacts of winter road maintenance on the environment. 

    “It is a big lift to tackle this chloride issue,” Asleson said. “The more collaboration we can do as states to share information and knowledge with each other, the better off all of us will be at protecting our environment.” 

    For Westphal, in La Crosse County, it wasn’t hard to convince his staff to get on board with being more mindful of their salt use because many of them share his appreciation for the Mississippi River and nearby lakes. His passion for the issue comes from a longtime friendship with Giblin, the Wisconsin DNR water quality specialist. 

    But this winter, which has already been a snowy one, could be a big test. 

    To get more salt applicators on board, Westphal sees three things that need to happen: Grant money for brining equipment and other materials, protection from lawsuits, and finally, some pressure from the state to heavily encourage people to make the switch. 

    Westphal said it comes down to “selling people on the right thing versus the easy thing.” 

    The Mississippi River, running just blocks away from their downtown campus, serves as a powerful reminder of why he thinks it’s right. 

    Road salts wash into Mississippi River, damaging ecosystems and pipes is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. 

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