A Low-Salt Diet for Our Lakes and Streams

November 20, 2017


Volunteer Joe with bucket of road salt, broom and dust pan for picking up extra saltA little salt can go a long way for managing snow and ice. But too much salt – which may be less than you think – is causing irreversible damage to our lakes and streams.

The danger of ice and snow on roads and sidewalks is a fact of life in Minnesota, and salt and sand can help reduce ice and add traction. When that snow inevitably melts, however, most of that salt and sand wash directly into nearby waters.  

Currently, salt use is not regulated, but it poses a real threat to clean water. The chloride contained in one teaspoon of road salt can permanently pollute five gallons of water. Chloride upsets aquatic environments, can kill birds and some plants, and can impact groundwater used for drinking.

Many people use more salt than they need.  But using more salt does not melt more ice, or melt it faster. In reality, salt only works when the temperature is above 15 degrees. Extra salt crystals will just eventually become a pollutant. It’s best to use no more than one pound of salt per 250 square feet (for scale, a typical parking space is about 150 square feet). One pound of salt fills up a 12-ounce coffee mug.

Want to protect your local lake or stream from chloride pollution? Here are some easy ways you can help:

  • Shovel regularly (a great form of winter exercise) to minimize ice buildup.
  • Break up ice with an ice scraper before deciding if sand or salt is necessary for traction – you may find that it’s not.
  • Salt won’t work if the temperature is below 15 degrees. Use calcium chloride or magnesium chloride instead, or use a small amount of sand for traction.
  • Sweep up any salt that’s visible on dry pavement and use it elsewhere or throw it away.  

By being proactive with your snow management, and using salt and sand wisely, you can save money, time, and the environment without sacrificing safety. Learn more about using salt safely.