With several months of icy weather ahead, citizens can help check local streams or lakes this winter for chloride spikes caused by the use of salt on roadways and sidewalks.
Winter Salt Watch, a nationwide, crowd-sourcing campaign run by the nonprofit Izaak Walton League of America, will send a free chloride-testing kit to anyone who requests one and agrees to use the kit’s four chloride-testing strips four times this winter. With each test, volunteers are asked to post a picture of the test results online at: www.waterreporter.org
Salt Watch is expanding its efforts in the state by partnering with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
“Minnesota has a lot of road surfaces that get treated for snow and ice so we want to keep an eye on salt pollution in our waterways and help MPCA locate chloride hotspots around the state,” said Emily Bialowas, who runs Salt Watch. “This is an easy, quick and free way to test your stream or lake for road salt pollution.”
Mower Soil & Water Conservation District and Cedar River Watershed District (same staff) encourage the public to request a kit and help gather chloride data on local waterways.
Water quality is tested extensively by Mower SWCD and CRWD for various data during the non-winter months, especially in the Cedar River Watershed, but that does not include chloride, said James Fett, SWCD and CRWD’s watershed technician.
Excessive salt harms wildlife and human health, and salt is difficult to remove from waterways, Bialowas said. That’s why Izaak Walton League, which has an Ikes chapter in Austin, supports monitoring local salt levels and advocates for more efficient use of salt on roads and sidewalks by transportation authorities and property owners.
Volunteers should choose one location – ideally in a river or stream downstream from a road or bridge – to test four times with the free kit for chloride throughout the winter, that according to Emily Bialowas, who runs Salt Watch. As for testing a lake, the kit includes guidelines for monitoring, such as using a dock if there is one because it’s best to get a sample from slightly off the shoreline.
All data is compiled and shared with Salt Watchers so they can see how chloride is affecting local waterways, she said.
MPCA officials say Minnesota has a growing problem with salty water that threatens freshwater fish and other aquatic life. Chloride from de-icing salt, water softening, dust suppressant, fertilizer and manure gets into lakes and streams, shallow groundwater and groundwater that supplies drinking water.
Only one teaspoon of salt can permanently pollute five gallons of water, the MPCA says. Once in the water, there is no easy way to remove chloride. Data shows chloride levels continue to increase in surface and groundwater across the state.
Residents can help reduce the amount of salt entering waterways from their own use of salt on sidewalks and driveways. MPCA says temperatures of 15 degrees and colder are too cold for salt to work; sand should be used instead for traction.
MPCA also encourages people to apply less salt on ice; more salt does not mean more melting. Less than 4 pounds of salt should be used per 1,000 square feet. One pound of salt equals about a heaping, 12-ounce coffee mug. Leave about a 3-inch space between salt granules and consider buying a handheld spreader to help apply a consistent amount.
When finished applying, sweep up extra salt. If salt or sand is visible on dry pavement, it no longer is doing any work and will be washed away, according to MPCA.