Hi, I’m groundwater. You might not realize it but you and me – we spend a lot of time together. You drink me, cook and wash with me and so much more.
When you turn on the tap do you ever wonder how I get there? It’s a bit of a journey for me. I get a lot of help along the way to make sure I’m clean and safe for you to drink.
Join me on my adventures! Learn about me – your drinking water. Find out where I live, how I get to your tap and what you can do to help keep me healthy. You can also find more on the Region of Waterloo website.
I want to hear from you. Share your ideas or ask me a question and I’ll do my best to answer it.
Rock salt, like other types of salt such as table and kosher, does not have a set expiration date. Because salt – sodium chloride – is an essential mineral, it can never spoil. This is the reason salt has been used as a food preservative and seasoning for thousands of years. If stored properly, salt can last indefinitely. So there is no need to use it all up before the end of the winter season.
How to store salt until the next season?
Salt should be stored in a cool and dry place with few temperature changes. Keep your winter salt in an airtight container, as changes in moisture can cause your salt to clump together and harden. If the salt does end up clumping together, you can still use it by breaking it apart.
Wherever you store it, make sure to keep it out of the reach of children and pets. Winter salt and ice melter can be harmful if ingested, can irritate mouths and stomachs and, depending on the amount consumed, winter salt can be poisonous.
Sweep up your salt at the end of winter
Instead of buying more salt, save your money by sweeping up any leftover salt to use again next winter! Don’t forget about any excess salt that has collected in driveway corners, steps, or walkways. Leaving it there for the rain to wash away adds to salt’s negative effects on your own gardens, buildings, other plant life nearby, and your drinking water (that’s me!).
How to handle and dispose of salt
Since salt doesn’t expire, consider keeping it for next year or donating it to a not-for-profit organization or place of worship.
What you shouldn’t do is throw it out or pour it down a storm drain where it can impact the local environment. Even after the rain has washed salt away and you can’t see it any more, it never really goes away. The salt can wash into a creek or stream or soak into the ground to mix with me – groundwater, your drinking water; changing fresh water to salty water.
Never use salt as a week killer. Salt is bad for the environment. Salt robs soil of its moisture, creating a toxic environment for plant life. It is so effective at killing plant life that sometimes people will suggest it as a weed killer. This may kill your weeds, but the salt will also harm any other plants nearby and when it rains the excess salt can end up mixing with me or my cousins in streams or creeks. Caution should be used when spreading salt around plants in the winter as it can have lasting effects on plant life in the spring and summer months that follow.
What about water softener salt?
Never replace your water softener salt with salt meant for melting ice. Water softener salt, as opposed to winter salt, is specifically processed to be used in water softening equipment. Winter salt is unprocessed and sold with all of the impurities it brought with it from the ground. This may make it cheaper than softener salt, but winter salt has 95% purity, whereas softener salt has 99% purity. This difference in purity may not seem significant, but using winter salt as a softener for your water will only hurt your wallet in the end. Winter salt’s drop in purity means that it contains several insoluble minerals, like clay and shale. These minerals can clog your pipes, resulting in more frequent maintenance and repairs.
Save your salt for what it was meant to do – breaking down ice during winter months.
Winter salt can last indefinitely and can be kept until next season when stored properly throughout the year. Saving your winter salt for the following year reduces excessive waste and helps your wallet once winter rolls around again.
I know I like to go on and on about this but this time of year it’s really top of mind for me. And when I say top I literally mean top. I’m talking about salt and ice melter. The salt or ice melter put on the ground is on top of me. Once the salt is done its job of melting the ice it doesn’t go away. It can end up mixing with me and over time this will make me taste salty.
Help keep salt out of me. Ask yourself these five questions before salting.
What’s the temperature? Alright, it’s cold. But how cold is it exactly? The current local temperature matters quite a bit when using your salt or de-icer. Salt and de-icers work at different temperatures. It’s important to read the directions on the product packaging so you know what temperature the product you are using works best. For example, sodium chloride salt loses its effectiveness on ice when the surface temperature dips below minus 10 degrees Celsius. Sprinkling salt on an extremely cold day won’t get rid of your ice, and it will increase the risk of salt damage. Break up the ice with a steel ice chopper and use sand, grit or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction instead.
What will the temperature be in the coming hours? Check your upcoming weather conditions before adding unnecessary salt. Is the forecast predicting warmer weather in the very near future, potentially rising above freezing? In that case, there’s little reason to use salt at all. If temperatures are on the rise, let the sun do the work for you by melting the ice without the environmental damages from salt. While waiting for the sun to do its job, spread a traction aid like sand to reduce the risk of slips and falls. Once the sun has started to soften the ice, a steel ice chopper can also help break up the ice, followed by clearing it with a shovel.
Are there plants nearby? How close is the salt to your grass, or plants? This is an important thing to take note of, as salt can dehydrate soil and block a plant’s ability to feed itself. Be sure to use salt sparingly around plants, keeping both as far away from each other as possible. When you need to use salt, do your best to aim with accuracy so that none of it ends up on grassy areas or in plant beds – besides the environmental impacts, it’s also a waste of salt.
Where are your pets? If you have pets that go outside, remember that salt can hurt their paws, and should never be consumed. Although your loyal friend may want to help you clear your driveway, make sure they are not nearby if you need to apply salt. Following the label directions, and not over salting, will help you reduce the chances of salt irritating your pets in the future.
How much salt should I use? This is an important question that should be asked more often. First, make sure you read the packaging label to see what’s recommended. Fact is, the majority of people over-apply salt by a large margin. Although you might think the more salt the better, too much salt creates other problems including affecting me – your drinking water. Spread a thin layer of salt evenly across any icy areas. In many cases, a few tablespoons of salt for a one-metre square area of ice – about the size of a sidewalk slab – is all you need to get the job done. Using a salt with a finer grain will also help you to spread it more evenly so it can work faster. Also, if after the ice is gone and you still have salt, sweep it up to save for another time.
It’s sometimes just old habit to reach for a bag of salt before considering other environmental factors. Not only will over salting cost you more in salt, but poor practices also negatively impact many aspects of your lives, from your environment to your infrastructure.
How do you make the call on when to salt or when not to?
Knock, knock! — Who’s there? — Ice. – Ice who? – Ice to see you!
Bet you didn’t know I was a comedian. But seriously, let’s talk snow and ice. If I were to ask you what is the one thing you can do to help protect me, would you say shovel snow?
But if you are responsible for snow removal whether it be for a walkway, parking lot or driveway; shoveling or plowing the snow is exactly what you can do to help protect me – groundwater – your drinking water.
The fact is, the longer you wait to clear the snow the more likely it is to be stepped on or driven on. And when that happens, the snow gets packed down, turns to ice, sticking to the surface and making it harder to remove.
That’s when in many cases salt or ice melter is needed. And if you have been reading my blogs, you know how salt really gets to me.
Try these snow and ice clearing hacks to help you limit your use of salt while keeping areas clear of snow and ice.
Don’t delay. Get at your snow before it freezes there! If snow is left too long or becomes packed down, it could turn to ice and become much more difficult to remove. Or, if it is a heavy snowfall, waiting until it stops snowing could mean a much heavier task. Do yourself a favour and get shoveling as soon as possible. When removing snow, remember to lift with your legs, and to take several breaks. Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity, and strain combined with cold air can take a toll on your heart. If you have cardiovascular problems or a history of heart disease, speak with your doctor before attempting to shovel. Lifting snow improperly can also strain muscles, so remember to bend your knees, lift with your legs and take breaks. But there really is no replacement for good, old fashioned shoveling. Salt does not do what a little muscle power can.
Break up the ice with a steel ice chopper. Once you have cleared the snow you might have some areas where ice has formed. Try using an ice chopper to break up any remaining ice. Ice choppers also do a great job of loosening hard packed snow making it easier to clear away with a shovel.
Add traction when needed. If the sun is out and the temperatures are warming up, you might only need to provide some traction until the sun melts the ice away. Once the snow is cleared and you’re left with icy patches, you can use sand, grit or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction. This won’t melt the ice, but it will reduce the potential for slips and falls.
Check the temperatures. Before reaching for the salt check your local weather forecast. What is the current temperature? Is it getting colder or warming up? Now check the working temperature of the salt or de-icer you are using. Different types of salt and de-icers work at different temperatures. For example, sodium chloride salt works best between 0 and -10 degrees Celsius. If it’s too cold for the salt or de-icer to work, use a traction aid like sand instead. And if it’s warming up to above 0 degrees Celsius, instead of salt, let the sun do the melting for you. You might need to add some traction with sand while you let Mother Nature do its job of melting the ice. A steel ice chopper can also help with the ice and then clearing it with a shovel.
Use salt and ice melter wisely. If salt or ice melter is absolutely necessary, make sure to sprinkle on icy areas only. Salt isn’t for melting the snow. Leave the job of clearing the snow to your plow or shovel. It’s also important to give salt time to work. Even when you can’t see it anymore it is hard at work melting the ice. And a little goes a long way. In many cases a few tablespoons of salt for a one metre square area – the size of a sidewalk slab – is all you need. Check out an earlier blog I wrote on what you need to know before purchasing winter salt or ice melter.
Want to learn more? Check out the Region of Waterloo’s video with tips for clearing snow and ice. You might even see me making a guest appearance.
Do you have a favourite tool or tip that makes snow clearing easier? Share in the comments section to help others keep salt away from me. And if you know any jokes I could use help in that department as well. But just like me, please keep the jokes clean.
It might not be Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous but for me it’s home. Entering my home might not be obvious. For you, a knock on a door or a turn of a key, and you’re in. For me it’s a bit trickier. It starts with me as a raindrop. After parachuting in from the clouds I soak into the ground to recharge my home, the aquifer.
Groundwater’s word of the day:Recharge, also called infiltration, is when water is added back into the aquifer. This can happen through precipitation such as rain fall or when snow melts or from water seeping into the aquifer from surface water such as a pond or stream.
So what is an aquifer? First, to find an aquifer you have to look down. Believe it or not, where you are standing right now, there could be an aquifer underneath you. It might take some work digging down to get to it, but it’s there.
When you dig into the ground, what do you find? Dirt, sand, rocks. Theses are all materials that can be found in an aquifer. What materials are in the aquifer depend on the geology of the land and how it was formed a long, long time ago. Glaciers played an important role carving out the land. The materials left behind when the glaciers retreated or melted helped form the aquifers, including the Waterloo Moraine where recharge for some of the aquifers begins in Waterloo Region.
The Waterloo Moraine consists of thick deposits of sand and gravel, separated by clay layers, where large quantities of recharge help supply the water to the Region’s water supply wells. The map shows the Regional recharge areas of the Waterloo Moraine where sand is exposed at the surface allowing the recharge into the aquifers.
But make not mistake, recharge happens everywhere beneath your feet, not just the green areas.
Aquifers in much of Waterloo Region consist of sand and gravel with layers of clay. The exception is most of Cambridge where the aquifers are in bedrock.
Getting back to me parachuting from the clouds and soaking into the ground…once I have soaked into the ground, I look for spaces between the different materials – sand, gravel or bedrock. Those spaces might look tiny to you but for me, they’re plenty big.
Hands-on activity: Place some pebbles or marbles in a glass. They represent the sand or gravel in an aquifer. Look closely at the pebbles/marbles. Do you see spaces? Now pour water into the glass. This represents the recharging or adding water back into the aquifer. Where does the water go? Does it sit on top of the pebbles/marbles or does it fill up the spaces?
That’s what an aquifer is, an area underground filled with groundwater – me – in the spaces between the sand grains, rock or gravel.
And once I’m there I don’t sit still. Water doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. So while I’m underground, I’m slowly moving a few metres per year through the spaces between the sand, rock or gravel. Eventually I’ll make my way into a stream and evaporate as part of the water cycle before parachuting down from the clouds to recharge an aquifer once again.
So there you have it. Hopefully you now have a better idea of where I live. And if you are looking for something to do that involves ice cream, check out this edible aquifers recipe. It’s a fun and tasty way to learn more about my home.
It’s winter. And with it comes snow and ice. Which I happen to like because it helps recharge my home, the aquifer.
But I understand for you, snow and ice can bring its own challenges. Along with the shovel, ice chopper and sand, salt is a tool you might reach for.
If you’ve ever purchased salt or another de-icing product, I’m sure you have discovered there isn’t just one cure-all, but several products that promise different things. And if you want to help protect the environment, product labels can be confusing.
Did you know currently there are no labelling laws when it comes to de-icers? The product might say environmentally friendly, 100 per cent natural, or salt free. But is it?
Salt and most ice melting products contain chloride but how much? And it is the chloride that is damaging to me, groundwater – your drinking water.
Reading the labels of the different brands is important. Some products are more corrosive, whereas others are specifically designed to be safe around pets. Some products have finer grains to allow for a more even spread so it works faster and is more effective. The working temperature for these products can also vary making it crucial to follow package directions carefully.
Here’s a list of common active ingredients and the lowest melting temperature they are most effective. Keep in mind the melting temperature is for the pavement temperature and not the air temperature.
Urea (NH2)2CO : 0 to -7 Celsius
Sodium Chloride (NaCl) : 0 to -10 Celsius
Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) : 0 to -23 Celsius
Potassium Acetate (KCH3COO) : 0 to -26 Celsius
Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) : 0 to -29 Celsius
Sand : provides traction but does not melt ice
What to consider when buying your ice melter:
Read the product packaging to understand what temperature your product works best
The finer the grain the better – it will work faster and spread more evenly
Whatever product you buy remember to use it sparingly to limit its damaging impact on me, groundwater
When using traction sand, look for a product with little – less than 5 per cent – or no salt
Make sure to read the product instructions for your salt or ice melter carefully. Using too much salt, or using it when the product doesn’t work at all, will not only waste your salt and money, it will also negatively impact me, plant life and infrastructure.
With winter here, salt is top of mind for me. Let’s talk about the cost of using salt (and ice melter and de-icing products).
The obvious one is the cost of purchasing it. For that reason alone, it makes sense to spread only what you need and only when you need it. And did you know you can sweep up leftover salt to save for another time?
Not that money is a big deal for me, but if we’re talking money, it’s hard to put an exact dollar amount on the environmental cost of using salt.
A National Post article “The awesome price we pay” outlines some of the costs of using salt. The author writes “Dalhousie University estimated that it costs it an extra $15,000 in cleaning and maintenance each year just to repair all the damage salt does to floors and baseboards”.
Sore paws. Have you ever watched a dog trying to walk through salt? Salt trapped in their paws can irritate and crack their skin.
Damage to buildings and concrete surfaces. Salt is toxic and will eat away at outside structures (brick/concrete/sidewalks), doorways and flooring may become damaged, increasing repair costs.
Health of soil, plants and landscaping. If sprayed with salt, vegetation can lose its hardiness to the cold and be killed by freezing temperatures and high salt levels.
Footwear and clothing. Salt stains and can ruin footwear and clothing.
Vehicles, bicycles and wheelchairs. Salt accelerates rusting, causing damage and increasing repair costs.
Health of waterways for aquatic life. Salt changes water density, which can negatively affect the seasonal mixing of lake waters. This mixing is important to increase oxygen levels required by aquatic life for survival.
Groundwater here. Let’s talk salt. I’m not talking beaches or seasoning but the stuff spread on the roads, parking lots, sidewalks, driveways, stairs – pretty much anywhere outside you walk, bike or drive in the winter.
Don’t get me wrong, salt has its benefits. It’s easy to find, relatively cheap and for the most part does a good job of melting ice so it’s safer for you to get around.
But if you are me – groundwater – salt isn’t so great. Unfortunately, what is put on the ground can end up where I am and overtime that same salt and ice melter will make me – your drinking water – taste salty.
Here are my top six mistruths about salt that I think contribute to it being a water quality concern for me and my cousins in lakes and streams.
Salt doesn’t harm the environment. FACT: Salt is a toxic substance and is a pollutant to water quality. Salt is a chemical but because it is found naturally and it’s used in your food, salt isn’t treated as such. Like many things it is about moderation and only using the right amount when needed.
You can use an environmentally-friendly ice melter. FACT: Most ice melter and de-icing products including ones labelled “100 per cent natural”, and “pet, plant and environmentally friendly” use salt as their main ingredient. Even when you think you are using something environmentally friendly, it probably isn’t water friendly. Take a close look at the product labelling. If it melts ice it most likely lists chloride (Cl) as one of its ingredients and is damaging to water.
Salt works in all temperatures. FACT: Salt (sodium chloride) works best between 0 and -10 Celsius. When it’s colder, it is best to switch to sand for traction or use an ice melter that works at colder temperatures. That ice melter is still damaging to water so make sure to follow product instructions and only use on icy areas only after you have cleared the snow.
Salt goes away. FACT: Salt doesn’t leave the environment. It’s actually the chloride in salt that’s the problem. Chloride is highly soluble, meaning it gets inside me and won’t get out. Have you ever had a house guest who overstays their welcome? For me, that’s chloride.
Water and wastewater treatment removes salt. FACT: Current water and wastewater treatment does not remove chloride in salt and ice melter products from water. Removing salt requires desalination which is extremely expensive and energy intensive, and greatly increases greenhouse gases.
Salt is regulated and you must take training to use it. FACT: Anyone can spread salt. If the person spreading the salt hasn’t been educated on proper techniques and how harmful salt is to water, they often spread way too much or assume salt is the best tool when conditions say otherwise.
So there you have it. My six mistruths about salt. I’m sure there are others so I’d love to hear from you.
Imagine a day without me – groundwater. Not a day goes by you don’t use me. You drink me, clean and wash with me, and so much more.
Keeping me clean and making sure there is always enough of me to go around is an important job. One that everyone can help with.
Want to be a water protector? Here are my top nine ways to get started.
Take shorter showers. Cutting back on your shower by even a few minutes can mean less water down the drain and more money you can save on your next water utility bill.
Check your toilet for leaks. Paying for water you aren’t using isn’t fun. Did you know a leaky toilet can silently lose 300 litres or more a day? That’s like filling up three bath tubs! An easy way to detect a leak is to place a few drops of food colouring in the tank, wait 20 to 30 minutes and then check the water in the bowl. If the water has changed colour you have a leak. For where else to check for leaks visit the Region of Waterloo water conservation web page.
Limit the use of salt and ice melter. Chloride in salt and ice melter soaks into the ground and mixes with groundwater once it has melted the ice. Over time this will make drinking water taste salty. The Region of Waterloo has snow and ice clearing tips that can help keep salt out of water.
Support water education. The Waterloo Wellington Children’s Groundwater Festival provides fun, hands-on activities to 5,000 grade 2 to 5 students each May. You can help the Festival continue educating future water protectors by making a financial donation and/or volunteering during the event.
Use a rain barrel. Save on your water utility bill by watering your plants with rain courtesy of Mother Nature. Using native plants in your garden can also help reduce how much you need to water and create a pollinator-friendly space.
Set your water softener to the correct water hardness. Save on salt costs and help reduce the amount of salt going into the Grand River. Water hardness differs throughout Waterloo Region. Use the Water Softener Facts website water hardness maps to find the water hardness for your area.
Return unused medication to your local pharmacy. Help keep medication out of waterways. Never flush it down the toilet or pour down the sink.
Only rain down the storm drain. Storm drains connect directly with the local waterway. It is important only rain and melted snow enter the storm drains to keep streams and creeks clean.
Report a spill immediately if you witness or suspect a spill has occurred or is about to occur. A spill is the release of a substance that is harmful to the environment, such as oil, fuel, chemicals or pesticides into a sewer or the environment. Quick actions can reduce the clean-up time and protect the local environment.
I’d love to hear from you. Why is protecting water important to you? Do you have tips to help others be water protectors?
Hopefully you now know that I spend a lot of time deep underground moving through sand grains, rocks and gravel in what I like to call an aquifer.
I do a lot for you. You drink me, cook and wash with me, and so much more.
But have you ever asked yourself “if groundwater is deep underground, how the heck do we get it to where I am?” Well, we use…wells.
Perhaps a wishing well comes to mind. As a child maybe you tossed a coin over your shoulder and made a wish. Bring back memories? What did you wish for? Did your wishes come true?
Today’s wells don’t typically look like wishing wells. And even though the Region of Waterloo has hundreds scattered throughout Waterloo Region, you probably have never noticed them in your travels.
So what is a well? A well is a metal pipe put into the ground to extract groundwater. Think of it like a big drinking straw.
First, a deep hole is drilled into the ground. How deep depends on how far down I’m hiding. Region of Waterloo municipal wells usually start around 30 metres (100 feet) deep and can reach depths of over 100 metres (330 feet). Once the hole is drilled, a metal pipe is placed inside. At the bottom of the pipe are slits covered with a screen allowing me to enter the pipe.
The Region of Waterloo uses two types of wells – supply wells and monitoring wells.
Supply wells move the groundwater from underground to above ground for you to use. A pump pushes me up the well. It’s probably like you spending the day on the rides at the fall fair. Once I get to the top of the well I go through a treatment process and tested to make sure I am good to go for you to drink. After that I hitch a ride through underground pipes to your home.
The supply well is located inside or beside a pump house. Operation of the well is monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from a central location. From this location the operator can control how much of me is pumped through the well. The Region of Waterloo manages over 120 supply wells throughout Waterloo Region.
The other type of well is a monitoring well. Monitoring wells collect information on the health of the groundwater. This includes collecting samples to test for water quality and to measure groundwater levels in the aquifer. Monitoring wells are placed near supply wells or along the path groundwater takes underground to reach the supply well. For each supply well, monitoring wells are drilled at different depths to provide information on the aquifer from different layers or locations. The Region of Waterloo manages over 400 monitoring wells throughout Waterloo Region.
Groundwater here. Unlike my friends in lakes and streams, I don’t always get the attention I deserve. Now that I have my own blog, I’d like to share some interesting facts about me.
I live underground. I am the rain and the melted snow that soaks into the ground. You live in a home above ground – I live in an aquifer underground. An aquifer is the layers of sand grains, rocks and gravel found underground. When I soak into the ground, I fill up the spaces between the sand grains, rocks and gravel. It’s like a big apartment building for water droplets, except it’s underground.
I am always moving. I might not move as fast as my cousins above ground in streams and rivers but I am always moving. Moving underground between the sand grains, rocks and gravel is hard work. Think of it like going through a maze in the dark. How long I stay underground is hard to say, could be days or years. But at some point I rejoin my cousins above ground in a stream, river or lake and go through the water cycle once again.
You have a doctor, I have a hydrogeologist.Hydrogeologists study me and keep me healthy. To do this, they use the geology of the land to understand how I move underground. Knowing how groundwater interacts with the materials underground helps the hydrogeologist figure out the path I take underground and how long that journey might take.
Sand cleans me. When you are dirty you probably take a shower or a bath. And if you live in Waterloo Region I most likely dropped by for a visit. Sand is my shower. When I am travelling underground, I move through sand grains that help clean me.
There you go – four cool facts about me. I’d love to hear from you. Share your cool facts about groundwater. And if you learned something new today that you found interesting I’d love to hear about that as well.