News Feature | January 10, 2017

Utilities And The Fight Against Road Salt

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

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With snow fall occurring around the country, the use of salt on roads and streets has become a concern for water treatment operations.

According to the Greensburg Daily News, the country’s interstate de-icing creates the largest single use of salt, consuming up to 10 times the amount that is needed in food production. When the salt is used on roadways and streets, it doesn’t just go away. It is either washed away into storm drains or “through drainage ditches and ultimately into lakes and streams.”

“Rock salt runoff negatively affects soil, vegetation, concrete, metals and aquatic life,” Julie Savia, an environmental manager at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, told Greensburg Daily News.

Though there is no program that “thoroughly monitors environmental sodium chloride,” Savia added that there is “an ever-growing body of scientific studies of the vast amounts of salt leaking into water sources and affecting the environment.”

One study mentioned by Greensburg was conducted in 2010 by researchers at Indiana University. The researchers were able to test streams and lakes near Bloomington and Ellettsville where they “found sharp spikes in the salinity of bodies of water immediately after snowfall and the spraying of road salt.”

The study explained that once salt is brought into the environment, it is a bit challenging and costly to remove.

In Woodbury, MN, to combat salt, the city is purchasing better anti-icing gear, hoping to stop the rising cost of having to remove salt from drinking water.

“We have seen elevated chloride even in deep aquifers,” Brooke Asleson, metro watershed project manager for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, told the Star Tribune. “That’s not a health issue, but taste matters. If peoples’ water gets salty, they are not going to be happy.”

A 2015 study showed that chloride concentrations in Minnesota’s Frost Belt streams doubled from 1990 to 2011, posing threats to aquatic life. As the brininess in Woodbury’s water continue to rise, “Minnesota state officials are devising ways to show local street maintenance crews how what they do now can affect the environment later.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Loading Salt At Zion Crossroads Area Headquarters, February 2014" Thomas D. Allen Covey © 2014 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/