Water & Infrastructure

Road Salt


The Water Main put together a multiplatform project looking at the tradeoffs of heavy road salt use in a snowy place like Minnesota and the alternatives to its use. We collaborated with Minnesota Public Radio News to produce a series of stories on the topic, as well as the Science Museum of Minnesota, which hosted a “Citizen Science Winter Salt Lab” to drive home the effects of chloride pollution. Families were invited to bring samples of melted snow and ice to the museum to test their salinity — an indicator of the presence of chlorides.

 

One teaspoon of salt permanently pollutes 5 gallons of water.

Chloride contamination from road salt is an increasingly hot — and worrisome — topic in scientific circles. One teaspoon of salt permanently pollutes 5 gallons of water — roughly a bucket of water. And techniques to get it out, like reverse osmosis, can be extremely expensive.

Chlorides damage lead water pipes, causing the toxic metal to leach into drinking water.

Chloride from road salt can make its way into bodies of water and pose problems for aquatic life. More alarmingly, it can get into drinking water supplies, causing tap water to have a salty taste, as some residents in Madison, WI, are experiencing. And in one extreme case in the city of Brick, chlorides damaged lead water pipes, causing the toxic metal to leach into drinking water.


MPR News Reporting

Photo credit:  Paul Middlestaedt  |  MPR News    Minnesota dumps some 730 million pounds of salt on roadways each winter, and it's posing a major risk to the environment. Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News file

Photo credit: Paul Middlestaedt | MPR News
Minnesota dumps some 730 million pounds of salt on roadways each winter, and it's posing a major risk to the environment. Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News file

Road salt is polluting our water. Here's how we can fix it

Just a teaspoon of road salt pollutes 5 gallons of water — forever. And each winter, Minnesota dumps some 730 million pounds of salt on roadways. Once snow melts, salt flows into lakes and streams. Once salt is in a body of water, it's nearly impossible to remove. Read the article.

 
Photo credit:  Evan Frost  |  MPR News   City of Minneapolis winter maintenance driver Vicky Stitch sits in the driver's seat of her snow plow in Minneapolis Dec. 11. Evan Frost | MPR News

Photo credit: Evan Frost | MPR News
City of Minneapolis winter maintenance driver Vicky Stitch sits in the driver's seat of her snow plow in Minneapolis Dec. 11. Evan Frost | MPR News

'Dead fish or dead people?' The challenges of curbing road salt use

Virtually everyone agrees road salt is a necessary part of Minnesota's economy in winter. It keeps us safe and allows us to get to work. But scientists also say that salt is a worrisome pollutant. Read the article.

 
Photo Credit:  Photo by Tony Webster    Shingle Creek seen in Palmer Lake Park, Brooklyn Center, Minn. |  Wikimedia Commons 2016

Photo Credit: Photo by Tony Webster
Shingle Creek seen in Palmer Lake Park, Brooklyn Center, Minn. | Wikimedia Commons 2016

Shingle Creek's cautionary tale for Minnesota's water

Fifty Minnesota lakes and streams are now on the state's impaired waters list because of too much chloride, mainly from road salt. Excess chloride has widespread implications — everything from affecting aquatic life reproduction to corroding our infrastructure to health problems for humans. Read the article.

 
Photo Credit:  Paul Middlestaedt  |  MPR News    Minnesota has a salt problem. But at home, there are simple ways to reduce your impact on the water and soil.

Photo Credit: Paul Middlestaedt | MPR News
Minnesota has a salt problem. But at home, there are simple ways to reduce your impact on the water and soil.

4 earth-friendly tips to clean up your icy sidewalk

The salt we're so inclined to dump on roads and sidewalks after winter storms is a growing threat to Minnesota's lakes and streams. Chloride — the mineral in salt that's toxic to fish, birds and other aquatic life — is now considered an impairment in 50 bodies of water across the state. Scientists only expect that number to rise. Read the article.

 
Photo Credit:  Evan Frost  |  MPR News   A snow plow drives past a salt pile underneath an overpass after being filled up in Minneapolis on Mon. Dec. 11, 2017. Evan Frost | MPR News

Photo Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News
A snow plow drives past a salt pile underneath an overpass after being filled up in Minneapolis on Mon. Dec. 11, 2017. Evan Frost | MPR News

Study finds salty cocktail changing pH of freshwater rivers

A study out this week shows that rivers in the upper Midwest — particularly North Dakota — are becoming saltier faster than the rest of the country. The lead researcher on the study, Sujay Kaushal, an associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland, looked at five decades of data from more than 200 monitoring sites across the country. Read the article.

 
Photo Credit:  Joe Raedle  |  Getty file    Cleanup efforts in Houston after Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in September 2017.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle | Getty file
Cleanup efforts in Houston after Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in September 2017.

Facing massive storm costs, how resilient is the insurance industry?

The cost of storms fueled by climate change exceeded $300 million last year. We discuss what that means for the insurance industry, plus the implications of too much winter salt and how the media fails to attribute climate change to extreme weather. Read the article.

 
Photo Credit:  Evan Frost  |  MPR News 2017    Minnesotans probably don't need to worry in the short term that the road salt at the city of Plymouth maintenance facility will make it into drinking water.

Photo Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News 2017
Minnesotans probably don't need to worry in the short term that the road salt at the city of Plymouth maintenance facility will make it into drinking water.

Think road salt won't reach your drinking water? Ask Madison

Minnesotans probably don't need to worry in the short term that the road salt at the city of Plymouth maintenance facility will make it into drinking water. But you don't have to go far for a lesson on complacency. When we toss down the road salt that's ubiquitous with icy, snowy winters in the North, the salt doesn't just disappear after it clears up the roads and sidewalks. Read the article.

 
Photo Credit:  Evan Frost  |  MPR News    Minnesota lawmakers are introducing a bill this week that'd give legal cover to crews that that use "smart salting" techniques, or using only the recommended amount necessary to melt ice.

Photo Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News
Minnesota lawmakers are introducing a bill this week that'd give legal cover to crews that that use "smart salting" techniques, or using only the recommended amount necessary to melt ice.

Could 'smart salting' keep Minnesota roads and waters safe?

Tim Malooly's company Irrigation By Design is a year-round, full-service landscape shop. In the summer, they'll fertilize your lawn. In the winter, they'll plow your drive and salt your sidewalk. And if anyone happens to slip and fall, you can blame him in a court of law. Read the article.

 

Road Salt Checklist

Minnesotans are a hardy bunch. Here, hockey is an outdoor sport and it takes more than six inches to trigger a snow day. But can Minnesotans channel that same “bold north” mentality to defend the state’s waters from chloride pollution? Use our checklist to see if you are up to the challenge.

 
 

Stay Informed

Get the latest stories and event information from the Water Main team.