Preserve fresh water – salt smart

Did you know that one teaspoon of salt permanently pollutes five gallons of water?

Chlorides are an increasing concern in Minnesota’s surface water and groundwater. It’s toxic to freshwater fish, amphibians, insects, and plants. Unlike excess nutrients like phosphorus, chloride can’t be removed from water through common treatment methods, requiring expensive technologies instead. Fifty-four water bodies in Minnesota are now listed as impaired for excess chloride. Luckily, none are in the Vermillion River Watershed, so let’s keep it that way.

Though the “crunch” sound of salt on an icy pavement may make you feel safer, more salt isn’t better. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Smart Salting program educates property managers and maintenance staff about how to use salt more efficiently on roads, parking lots, and sidewalks. The agency also began hosting Smart Salting for Local Leaders in conjunction with We Are Water MN this year. Reducing salt use can save money for you or your organization in addition to preventing freshwater pollution.

If you individually use salt at your home or your business, you also can help. Here are the MPCA’s top tips:

  • Shovel and scrape. The more snow and ice you remove, the less salt is needed to be effective. Watch this video about tools, techniques, and products that you can use to keep your driveways and sidewalks safe while protecting our waters.
  • 15°F and below is too cold for salt. Most salts stop working at this temperature. Use sand instead for traction but remember that sand does not melt ice.
  • Use the right amount. That crunch from sidewalk salt under your feet does not signify safety. People often think more salt equals more snow and ice melt. Around 12 ounces – roughly a coffee mug full – effectively treats a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (about 1,000 square feet). Aim to apply salt consistently (e.g. with a spreader), and use only in critical areas. We have cups available to help you measure and remember this amount – just ask.
  • Sweep up visible salt on dry surfaces. It is no longer doing any work and will be washed away into local waters. You can keep it to use later.
  • Take inventory. If you have common icy spots each winter, keep track of them and fix what you can this spring to avoid creating icy conditions next winter.
  • Don’t expect perfect conditions. Slow down and drive carefully. Always give plow drivers plenty of space to do their work. Consider purchasing winter tires.
  • Wear proper footwear. Wear shoes or boots with good traction and pay attention to where you are walking, avoid icy spots, if possible. Take it slow and give yourself extra time to get where you’re going.
  • Hire certified Smart Salters. Businesses that need someone to shovel or plow should hire a trained and certified Smart-Salting contractor. Individuals can advocate for reducing salt use in their community, at schools, churches, local businesses, and government agencies.