Written by YES! Coordinator Ali Dahmes
“Minnesnowta” can be a great place to live, if you like freezing winters and many feet of cold snow! With all this cold and snow, we get another fun weather factor in Minnesota—ice. It’s that time of year again where our roads and sidewalks are no longer clean but instead covered with ice and snow. So what do we do? Traditionally, we dump an excessive amount of salt on them to melt the ice and make roads and sidewalks safer. However, there is an environmental impact to using salt.
Minnesota, among other icy states, have thousands of roads, parking lots, and sidewalks to keep safe for the public. The most common ice remover is sodium chloride (aka salt). It works great to remove ice and keeps us safe during the winter. However, winter eventually comes to an end, and snow and ice eventually melt. Salty water then washes into our lakes, rivers, watersheds, and groundwater. Once in the waterways, it creates chaos in the ecosystem. High salt concentrations are harmful to many species: fish, freshwater aquatic animals, pets, and other wildlife. Not only is everything around us affected, but so are humans. Our cars get rusty, the infrastructure we live and work in degrades faster, and 30% of our drinking water exceeds the state standard for salt levels. Once salt is in the environment, it is difficult and costly to remove it from the ecosystem, slowly accumulating over time. With all of the harmful impacts from salt, we need to think about ways to decrease the amounts being administered into the ecosystem but still have safe roads to travel on.
It is estimated that in the metro area alone, we apply over 350,000 tons annually to our roads. Currently, there is not any inexpensive and effective ways to replace salt use that is environmentally friendly. However, we can reduce the amounts that we use. “Smart salting” is a great way to reduce the effects on wildlife, plants, vehicles, infrastructure, water, and ourselves while saving money.
- Shovel – the more snow that you remove, the less salt you will have to use
- Watch the temperature – most salts stop working at 15 degrees, so if it is colder than that, use sand for traction
- Slow down and be aware – reduce your speed in the vehicle and stay far away from snow plows
- Apply less – more salt does not mean more melting, only use recommended amounts (one pound per 1,000 square feet)
- Sweep up extra – if salt is visible on dry pavement it is no longer doing work so get rid of it before it washes away
What other ways can you think of to reduce salt use?