Is salt really that bad for water?

More and more, salt is becoming a normal part of the winter landscape. As one of the many tools used to clear snow and ice, salt is spread over most surfaces where you walk, bike, drive and park your vehicle. That’s a lot of area covered in salt!

over-salted stairs
Figure 1 – Salt is not just for the roads. Over salting on stairs.

You might not think of salt as a pollutant. However, TVO’s article Oversalted: Why Ontario needs a new approach to snow removal states “Environment Canada completed a five-year study in 2001 that concluded road salt should be added to its list of toxic substances, although the department did not actually ban the use of road salt.”

Keeping everyone safe and protecting the environment can be a tough balancing act. But using too much salt or when not needed isn’t good for plants, pets’ paws, cars, and buildings. If you have read my blog “The hidden costs of winter salt and ice melter you might not know about” you’ll know what I mean.

But what about fresh water in lakes and streams and me – groundwater? Is salt really that bad for water? Doesn’t salt just go away after it melts the ice and if not, can’t technology be used to simply remove the salt from water?

Stream in Waterloo Park in winter.
Figure 2 – Salt is damaging to fresh water including groundwater.

Did you know?

  1. Salt is a long-term pollutant that stays with water. Once salt is spread on the ground it stays in the environment. You might not see the salt anymore after the snow melts or when the salt is washed away with the rain but it’s still there. The salt can soak into the ground to mix with me and will build up over time or enter a local waterway through a storm drain.
  2. Water and wastewater treatment does not remove salt from water. Removing salt requires desalination which is extremely expensive and energy intensive, and greatly increases greenhouse gases. Including desalination as part of the treatment process would also result in much higher water costs for the community.
  3. When talking about water pollution, it’s the chloride in the salt and ice melter products that’s the problem. This includes environmentally-friendly products. Basically, if it melts the ice it most likely contains chloride and is damaging to water.

Salt impacts the taste of drinking water

For drinking water, it’s all about the taste. The Ontario Drinking Water Objectives for chloride is 250mg/L. This is when a salty taste may be detectable by some people.

Video: snow and ice clearing tips

The maps below compare the chloride levels from 1998 and 2018 at the Region of Waterloo drinking water supply wells. The orange and red dots are groundwater wells with chloride levels near or exceeding the 250 mg/L limit. Currently, the Region of Waterloo must mix groundwater from different wells to lower the chloride levels.

water quality map comparing chloride levels in Region of Waterloo municipal wells between 1998 and 2018.
Figure 3: Water quality map comparing chloride levels in Region of Waterloo municipal wells between 1998 and 2018.

Salt is harmful to aquatic life

The Canadian Water Quality Guideline states for the protection of aquatic life that the long term exposure of chloride levels for freshwater should be below 120 mg/L.

Did you know a dragonfly eats hundreds of mosquitoes every day? Unfortunately, a salty pond can impact their numbers. A CBC article Salty dragonflies mean more mosquitoes, researchers reported in a study on how increased salt levels in a pond had little affect on mosquito larvae but were impacting dragonfly larvae.

Non-native or invasive species can also begin taking over areas meant for native wildlife. The price of salt: How road salts are affecting our Great Lakes written by Lake Ontario WaterKeeper shares how “Spots in Ontario have become so salty that there have been sightings of saltwater animals in the freshwater creeks. Reports of saltwater blue crabs living in Mimico Creek is just one troubling case that illustrates the extent of sodium chloride pollution in watersheds of Lake Ontario.”

Increasing salt levels in surface water is not limited to the GTA. The Grand River Conservation Authority measures water conductivity in the watershed. Although conductivity data does not measure chloride levels, it is an indicator that chloride is likely present.

Protecting water from salt pollution is a complex issue. It might not be realistic to stop salting completely; however, there are actions everyone can take to use less.

Salt is a normal part of the winter landscape. Salt is spread over most surfaces where you walk, bike, drive and park your vehicle. So is it really that bad for water? Read the I Am Groundwater blog to find out. #iamgroundwaterblog

Related posts:

Balancing winter road safety with the environmental impacts of salt and ice melters

When asked where salt is spread, many people will probably say roads. It’s true; levels of service requirements in Ontario make salt the prime tool in keeping roads safe. However, a lot of salt is also spread on parking lots, sidewalks and community trails. Unfortunately, because salt isn’t regulated and can be bought and used by anyone, the data for how much salt is spread on surfaces other than roads is not easy to get or reliable. Compared to roads, the application rate (how much salt spread in a measured area) for parking lots and walkways is thought to be two to three times greater. This is where we have the most opportunity to reduce chloride application.

snowplow on rural road plowing snow off road
Figure 1 – A Region of Waterloo snowplow in action. (photo credit: Donald Graham)

There are many reasons for potential over salting of parking lots and walkways that include lack of maintenance standards, outdated technology, and liability concerns. Municipal snowplow operators who clear the roads must participate in winter maintenance training that includes salt management principals and have access to resources and current technologies related to winter operations to maintain winter roads in the most efficient way possible.

Here are just some of the ways municipalities are better managing salt use while keeping roads safer for your community:

  • Snowplow operators receive training on how weather events can affect road surfaces and best management practices for salt
  • Road and atmospheric weather sensors provide operations staff monitoring road conditions with data to determine the appropriate course of action
Advanced Road Weather Information System (ARWIS) collects information on pavement and air temperatures.
Figure 2 – Advanced Road Weather Information System (ARWIS): one of three weather stations the Region of Waterloo uses to collect information on pavement and air temperatures.
  • Depending on weather and road conditions, some of the materials used may include:
    • Direct Liquid Application. This involves spraying a salt liquid on the road prior to a winter storm – referred to as anti-icing – to prevent ice and frost from forming and bonding to the pavement. Anti-icing uses less salt and increases the effectiveness of plowing early in the storm.
    • Pre-wetted salt. This is dry road salt with liquid salt brine applied on the dry salt before it is spread on the road. This helps the salt stick to the road surface and speeds up the effectiveness of the salt to form a salt brine solution on the pavement.
    • Sand. Can be used on its own or in combination with salt to provide traction when salt is less effective when temperatures fall below -12 degrees Celsius.

Salt brine is a mixture of water and a salt such as sodium chloride, magnesium chloride or calcium chloride. The type of salt used determines the working temperature of the brine.

  • Snowplows are equipped with:
    • Electronic spreader controls. Predetermined application rates ensure the correct amount of material is applied by the operator who selects rate of salt or sand based on the road and weather conditions.
    • Infrared thermometers. Provides continuous, accurate road and air temperature readings to assist the operator in the effective use of salt.
    • Global Positioning System. Records the location of the snow plows and amount of salt applied. Operations staff can review the information to minimize the application of salt while achieving the required level of service.
    • Blade technology. Snow plow blades follow the contours of the road to allow for the maximum amount of snow and ice to be removed mechanically thus reducing the amount of salt required.
  • Enclosed storage areas keep salt contained from outside exposure protecting the natural environment.
Salt storage facility at the Region of Waterloo Operations Centre.
Figure 3 – Salt storage facility at the Region of Waterloo Operations Centre. (photo credit: Donald Graham)
  • Snow fences in strategic locations and establishing new hedgerows help reduce snow drifting on to roads, which generally leads to the need for less salt.
snow fence placed by roads.
Figure 4 – Strategically placed fencing helps to reduce snow blowing on to roads that can create icy surfaces.
Figure 5 – Parts of a snowplow.

Parts of a snowplow:

  • Snow plow blade (front) – Mechanically removes snow and ice from the road reducing the amount of salt that is required to treat the road.
  • Snow plow blade (wing plow) – moves snow to the side of the road.
  • Conveyor – moves the salt from the hopper to the chute.
  • Tank – holds the pre wetting liquid to be sprayed on the salt.
  • Hopper – holds large amounts of salt the snow plow uses.
  • Liquid nozzle – sprays pre-wetting liquid on the salt as the salt travels along the conveyor. The liquid helps the salt work faster to form a brine requiring less salt to be applied on the road.
  • Chute – directs the salt from the conveyor to the spinner.
  • Spinner – controls the width of material that is being placed on the road.
  • Temperature display – shows the air and pavement temperatures so the snow plow driver knows when salt will work best.
  • Material application controller – allows the snow plow driver to control the amount of salt spread on the road.
  • Plow controller – allows the snow plow driver to move the front and wing plows.

How can you help?

  • Switch to winter tires
  • Drive for the weather conditions and give yourself extra time to arrive at your destination
  • Respect winter plowing operations. Operators are out to make the roads safe. Avoid passing a snow plow and show courtesy to the job they are doing.
  • When possible, consider leaving your car at home and taking public transit
Video: Winter tires quiz
Video: Top 10 tips to prep for winter driving
Video: A shift in the life of a snowplow driver

Safe travels, Groundwater

Have you ever wondered what’s involved with clearing snow and ice from roads? Snowplows are not just a truck with a plow. Read this I Am Groundwater blog to learn about the technology and equipment onboard. #iamgroundwaterblog

Related posts:

Five actions your business can take to reduce slip and fall hazards this winter

I get it. Safety is top of mind. And in the winter, keeping your business clear of snow and ice is no easy task. So what do you reach for? I’m going to say salt or some sort of ice melting product. Along with the cost to purchase salt there are other costs you might not consider. My post “The hidden costs of salt and ice melter you might not know about” talks about just that.

Protecting the environment including me – your drinking water – is important but I’m guessing someone slipping and falling on your property is a more pressing concern.

What if I told you there are actions you can take to reduce icy areas? Reducing icy areas can mean less salt on the ground – which is a good thing for me – and allows you to better manage your risk from a slip and fall.

Video: Winter maintenance – preventing ice before it occurs (Region of Waterloo)

So what can you do?

Start with a complete winter maintenance plan. Being proactive instead of reactive prepares your team for whatever Mother Nature might throw at them.

Walk your property on a rainy day. Watch how the rain flows, pools or puddles on your property. This same water in the warmer months can turn to ice when the temperature drops. In other words, potential slip and fall hazards needing more salt to deal with the ice.

illustration of person with umbrella with the word winter underneath
Figure 1 – Rain in the warmer months can become an icy slip and fall hazard in the winter.

Here are my top five actions you can take to better manage icy areas and provide safer passage for your staff and visitors.

  1. Repair leaky eaves troughs and downspouts. Leaky eaves troughs and downspouts can drip water on to paved walking areas that can turn into black ice, hard to see but easy to slip on. While taking that walk on a rainy day remember to look up for drips and leaks that can freeze into ice on a walkway.
rain dripping from an eaves trough
Figure 2 – Drippy eaves troughs can create icy areas where your staff and visitors walk.

2. Redirect downspouts away from paved areas. Downspouts draining on to paved areas can create icy areas that are hard to manage. Is it possible to move those downspouts so the water soaks into a grassy or landscaped area instead? Can you add an extension that takes that water to exit at a porous surface?

rain from downspout draining on to parking lot
Figure 3 – Where does the water from your downspout go?

3. Close areas instead of salting. Closing areas not needed in the winter can reduce your risk from potential slip and fall hazards. As part of your winter preparations, identify areas you can close without impeding emergency exits, accessibility ramps or entrances. Areas to close may include outdoor patios, overflow parking, redundant walkways or stairs. During, the pandemic, there may be larger areas of your parking surface that can be closed and don’t need to be maintained.

3 sets of stairs with two sets closed off.
Figure 4 – Areas to close might include redundant stairs.

4. Stop snow from drifting on to paved areas. Landscaping or snow fences can help keep drifting snow off paved areas and reduce icy areas from forming due to wind. Consider wind direction and elevation changes when choosing locations.

hedge behind parking lot
Figure 5 – Landscapes and fencing can help stop snow from drifting on to your property.

5. Store your snow where it won’t melt across paved areas. Where will you put the snow after it’s plowed? Store snow on paved surfaces on the lowest area of the property near a catch basin to stop melted snow from refreezing across your parking lot.

snow pile melting across parking lot
Figure 6 – Where you store the snow can help reduce ice from forming across your parking lot.

Now you know my five actions you can take to deal with the ice that can lead to slips and falls. Ready to take that walk? Make sure to grab your umbrella and this winter maintenance worksheet and map template to help you document those trouble spots.

Is your business winter-ready? Walk your property on a rainy day to see how rain flows and puddles. When temps drop this same rain turns to ice. Managing stormwater can reduce slip and fall hazards. #iamgroundwaterblog

What to do with your leftover salt at the end of the season

You’ve done your best to clear the snow and ice while limiting the use of salt. But with winter over, what should you do with any salt that’s leftover?

In this week’s blog’s post, we’ll talk about:

  • What is the expiration date for salt?
  • How should salt be stored after winter?
  • How do you dispose of salt?
  • Can you use salt for anything else?

Does salt expire?

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.

When handling winter salt, use a scoop and wear a pair of protective gloves if your skin will make contact with the salt. Handling salt can lead to “salt burns”, mild rashes or skin irritations. This also helps demonstrate just how corrosive salt is.

What not to do with winter salt

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.

Salt poured down a storm drain that connects with the local water system.
Never pour salt down a storm drain

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.

Winter’s over. You’ve put away the snow blower, shovel and ice chopper. But what should you do with any salt that’s leftover? #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

5 questions you should ask yourself before salting

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.

  1. 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.
outdoor thermometer
  1. 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.
illustration of weather patterns
  1. 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.
Salt can damage landscapes.
  1. 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.
Salt can hurt a pet's paws.
  1. 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.
In many cases, only a few tablespoons of salt for a one metre square area is all you need.

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?

Once salt is done its job of melting the ice it doesn’t go away. It can end up mixing with groundwater – your drinking water. 5 questions you should ask yourself before salting. #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

How to green your snow and ice clearing

Knock, knock! — Who’s there? — Snow. – Snow who? – Snow body’s home!

One more…

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.

Help protect water by shoveling your snow as soon as possible.

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.

  1. 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.
Video: How to shovel snow and protect your back
  1. 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.
Video: How to Deice Your Driveway and Sidewalk : Using Ice Pick for Deicing Driveway
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
In many cases, only a few tablespoons of salt for a one metre square area is all you need.
A little salt goes a long way.

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.

Video: snow and ice clearing tips for homeowners

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.

Cheers! Groundwater

DYK shoveling snow is one way you can help protect groundwater – your drinking water? How to green your snow and ice clearing. #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

What you need to know before purchasing winter salt or ice melter

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.

three buckets with different types of salt
Many different ice melting products available to purchase.

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.

So what to do? Before reaching for any product, read the Region of Waterloo’s snow and ice clearing tips.

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.

When it’s time to buy de-icing salt what do you need to know? And if you want to help protect the environment, product labels can be confusing. #iamgroundwaterblog #SaltingShift

The hidden costs of winter salt and ice melter you might not know about

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).

images of a building, child drinking water, winter boots, dog, frog and leaf. All can be damaged by salt.
Hidden costs of salt

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.

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s 2018 report (Volume 2 – Clean Water – Chapter 2 : page 87) the hidden cost of salt on infrastructure and the environment range from $200 to $470 per ton of salt applied.

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”.

What are the hidden costs of salt?

  • Your drinking water. Since this is my blog I’ll start with me. The salt and other de-icing products spread on the ground can eventually mix with me. Over time this will make me – groundwater – taste salty.
  • 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.

That’s my list. Do you have an experience to share about the cost of salt? Also, check out the Region of Waterloo’s website for tips on clearing snow and ice.

Cheers, Groundwater

Salt and ice melter are important tools for keeping you safe from ice. But what are costs? The hidden costs of winter salt and ice melter you might not know about. #iamgroundwaterblog

6 mistruths about winter salt

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.

map showing chlorine levels in wells in 2018
2018 Chloride levels at Region of Waterloo municipal well sites

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Salt is an important tool for clearing snow and ice but where groundwater is looking it’s not showing the same amount of love. Groundwater’s 6 mistruths about salt. #iamgroundwaterblog