Winter and snow and ice is a fact of life in Minnesota. And a lot of Minnesotians use salt on driveways and sidewalks to help melt all that snow and ice. But, did you know that salt is permanently polluting our lakes, rivers, and wetlands?
Salt’s two main chemical components are sodium and chloride. In our case, chloride is the reason for all the pollution. Increased levels of chloride are toxic to the aquatic life and the salty water affects disrupts Minnesota's freshwater ecosystems.
Unlike pollutants such as phosphorus and nitrogen, chloride cannot be filtered out. The chloride dissolves into the water where it becomes a permanent pollutant. There is no feasible way to remove salt from lakes and rivers, so every winter, our lakes become saltier and saltier.
With so much salt being spread across Minnesota, it may feel like the amount of salt that one person spreads on their driveway could not have any impact, but it does. Just 1 teaspoon of salt permanently pollutes 5 gallons of water. If you reduce your use by one cup, that saves nearly 250 gallons of water from being polluted. It all adds up, and you can be part of the solution.
What else can you do?
Shovel before sprinkling! Shoveling is the best way to prevent salt pollution since it clears sidewalks and driveways without having to use any salt. Shovel right after a snow event for the best results.
Sprinkle, don't pour. Large salt granules melt a few inches of ice, so sidewalk salt should be scattered about 3 inches apart. Additional salt just adds unnecessary pollution.
Sweep up extra salt. If there are still salt granules on your sidewalk and driveway once the ice has melted and the sidewalk is dry, sweep up the salt! You can use it after the next storm, plus it won’t get washed into our waters.
Only put down salt when temperatures are warm enough for it to work. Pure rock salt (sodium chloride) can only melt ice if the pavement is above 15 degrees Fahrenheit. If the pavement surface is colder than that, no melting will occur and the salt will just get blown away. You can use de-icers that work at colder temperatures.
Wear appropriate winter footwear. Don’t expect every sidewalk to be as clear and dry as it is in the summer. Put on those boots and be tolerant of safe amounts of snow on the sidewalk.
Drive with care. Leave yourself extra time to get to your destination in the winter, don’t drive when you don’t have to, and consider putting snow tires on your vehicle for the winter for better traction.
Want to know what to use at what temperatures? Use this handy chart!
We all want to be safe this winter, but let’s also consider our water and use only as much salt as we need and not a granule more!