Both salt and sand used for snow and ice management have negative impacts on the aquatic environment and the entire watershed. Some of the primary ways to reduce the negative effects is to:
- Reduce the amount and frequency of salt and sand application.
- Store salt and sand in a covered and lined bermed area away from storm drain inlets.
- Create brine with the deicer before application will make it more effective at melting the snow.
Salt alternatives, such as Calcium Magnesium Acetate, Magnesium Chloride, or Calcium Chloride are generally just as effective as salt without being as damaging to the environment. Regardless of the deicing substance and method, it is important to sweep the sand off the parking lot, driveway, or sidewalk after the storm and in the spring after snowmelt.
In addition, individuals may also petition for local ordinances that ban the use of salt in ecologically susceptible areas, in order to protect waters, wetlands or other sensitive areas. One way of reducing damage from de-icing salt is to have permeable pavers that infiltrate snowmelt for sidewalks, driveways and parking areas where practical.
Government agencies have to balance safety and effective ice and snow removal and during typical winters, salt is the most commonly used tool and often used over and over again within a season. Sometimes salt is combined with sand to make the salt stockpile last longer. Some ways to mitigate the impacts of salting and sanding include:
- Performing appropriate spreading procedures. Primarily it is important for municipal employees and facility managers to understand that more is not necessarily better. Enough salt and sand should be used to achieve the desired effects but spreading in excess is simply costly and detrimental to the environment (and is also extremely corrosive to infrastructure).
- Outfitting salt and sand spreaders with technology that reduces the chances of overspreading and spreading outside the roadside yellow lines or desired parking lot management area.
- Cover salt piles and store it away from the drainage system. This keeps the salt from running offsite and into the nearest waterway.
- Use salt alternatives like beet juice. This mixture can reduce the amount of salt needed by up to 30%. It may be more feasible for these salt alternatives to be used in and around ecologically sensitive areas, such as along waterways or fragile tributaries.
- Use "clean" sand that is free of fine materials so it doe not cause as much sediment in the waterways.
- Assure the health of roadside vegetation by planting native salt-loving vegetation, which will flourish in the salty environment while still filtering pollutants out of stormwater. Some salt loving plants that are native to Illinois include the following: Seaside Goldenrod, Expressway Aster, Alkali Grass, Tollway Sedge, Lesser Salt Spurrey, Foxtail Barley, Black Grass, Common Orach and Alkali Bulrush. These plants will grow in well-saturated soils that occasionally flood and then dry out but are particularly good because they stay where they are planted instead of becoming noxious weeds like most salt-tolerant plants.
- Pile snow in upland areas in order to reduce the amount of deicer that flows into streams and lakes during the spring snowmelt.
American Public Works Association, www.apwa.net
Klick, K., Restoration Ecologist, Lake County Forest Preserve, conversation 2008.
Salt Institute, www.saltinstitute.org
Deicing: Town of Ogden Highway Department, NY
Deicing product: Ace Hardware Outlet