With the arrival of winter weather come warnings to avoid using too much of a good thing to maintain snowy roadways, sidewalks and parking lots. Salt — often used to de-ice our paved surfaces — is commonly over-applied, sending too much chloride into our waterways and wreaking havoc for fish and other wildlife. Minnesotans can do their part this winter with a “less is better” strategy for salting surfaces and by using other tools to get the job done.
We scatter an estimated 445,000 tons of chloride-containing salt across Minnesota each year. Not only does salt damage our infrastructure, but it harms the environment. Chloride in salt ends up in our surface water, lakes, rivers and streams. It is toxic to our freshwater fish and other aquatic life. In fact, some waterways have so much chloride, they have been added to the state’s impaired waters list.
It only takes one teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water. That’s right, once the chloride is in our water it’s there for good. Chloride from de-icing is one of the largest contributors to a growing salty water problem in Minnesota.
Minnesotans can take action this winter with these smart salting tips:
- Shovel and scrape. The more snow and ice you remove, the less salt is needed to be effective. Watch this video about tools, techniques, and products that you can use to keep your driveways and sidewalks safe while protecting our waters.
- 15°F and below is too cold for salt. Most salts stop working at this temperature. Use sand instead for traction but remember that sand does not melt ice
- Use the right amount. That crunch from sidewalk salt under your feet does not signify safety. People often think more salt equals more snow and ice melt. Around 12 ounces – roughly a coffee mug full – effectively treats a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (about 1,000 square feet). Aim to apply salt consistently (e.g., with a spreader), and use only in critical areas.
- Sweep up visible salt on dry surfaces. It is no longer doing any work and will be washed away into local waters. You can keep it to use later.
- Take inventory. If you have common icy spots each winter, keep track of them and fix what you can this spring to avoid creating icy conditions next winter.
- Don’t expect perfect conditions. Slow down and drive carefully. Always give plow drivers plenty of space to do their work. Consider purchasing winter tires.
- Wear proper footwear. Wear shoes or boots with good traction and pay attention to where you are walking, avoid icy spots, if possible. Take it slow and give yourself extra time to get where you’re going.
- Hire certified Smart Salters. Businesses that need someone to shovel or plow should hire a trained and certified Smart-Salting contractor. Individuals can advocate for reducing salt use in their community, at schools, churches, local businesses, and government agencies.
The MPCA offers training for winter maintenance professionals, property managers, and others on how to provide safe surfaces in winter and minimize harmful environmental impacts. There is also a new online workshop for local leaders to learn how they can help. Check out the MPCA’s Smart Salting training website to learn more.
To stay current on all things smart salting subscribe to our newsletter or visit our website for more snow removal tips. More information about the dangers of chloride pollution in Minnesota waters can also be found on our website.