Over-Salting In The Winter Hurts Our Watershed In The Spring

By Casey Heilman Stormwater Program Manager

Winter is here, and with it comes the seemingly endless battle to keep snow and ice removed from our sidewalks and roadways.  Each year, Americans spread more than 48 billion pounds of salt to ward off the effects of winter. But while the snow disappears from our environment, the salt does not. Many people do not realize that it only takes one teaspoon of salt permanently pollute 5 gallons of water.

As the snow melts, it travels along the pavement, carrying excess salt and additional debris to our stormdrains. The polluted water then flows into nearby streams, where it is released untreated into the environment.
This dissolved salt can contaminate drinking water, harm pets, damage concrete, kill plants, and even harm wildlife.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, recent research has only just begun to help us understand the effects over salting has on the world around us.

In a study by the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science, too much salt in our waterways potentially has the power to alter the gender ratios in wood frogs, a species native to Ohio. In other words, there are 10% fewer female wood frog tadpoles being hatched, then there are males. That might not seem like a lot but over time, there could be a decrease in the wood frog population.

Yet another study published by Smithsonian Magazine found that salt can reduce the size of some fish hatchlings by as much as 30 percent. These smaller fish may not be able to escape predators as easily as larger fish. They also will not be able to lay the same amount of eggs.

The good news is everybody can help reduce the effects that salt has on the world around us. By keeping the following five tips in mind this winter, you can help protect our watershed, save money, and keep yourself safe.

The first step to protecting our watershed is to stay on top of snow removal. The best way to clear snow and ice is by shoveling, plowing, or using a snowblower. Clearing snow as it falls helps to ensure that it does not get packed down or become too deep to more easily remove.

Secondly, allowing the sun to melt the exposed parts of your pavement can help loosen up ice and melt snow. Additionally, moving your vehicles from the driveway when possible will help to maximize the surface and absorb the heat from the sun.

Using an ice breaker or flat metal shovel to break up snow and ice that has bonded to your pavement is the third tip for lessening your environmental footprint this winter. If just scraping the ice off the pavement doesn’t work, try vertically pounding it to break it into chunks. Once a small portion is loose, the rest should easily break free.

The fourth tip to consider this winter is to use sand to provide traction and help reduce the risk of someone slipping and falling. But remember, too much sand can also cause problems in our waterways. So, when winter comes to an end, be sure to sweep and collect the sand for reuse next year.

Lastly, consider using more environmentally friendly ways to melt the snow and ice. There are now liquid and non-chloride-based products on the market that are much less harmful to our watershed when the directions are followed.

If you do find that you need to use road salt this winter remember, less is more. A 12-ounce coffee mug of salt is typically enough to melt the snow and ice from a 20-ft driveway or about 10 sidewalk squares. It’s also important to bare in mind that salt will not work if the temperature is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

By working together, we can lesson our impact on our watershed and ensure a healthier natural environment for generations to come. For additional information about please contact Casey at 419-222-0846 x1002 or casey@allenswcd.com.