This winter, Minnesotans can do their part to put lakes and streams on a badly needed low-salt diet

Contact: Lucie Amundsen, 218-302-6600

Snow and ice in the forecast means it’s deicer season. Salt — 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 to salting surfaces and an age-old simple tool: the shovel.

We scatter an estimated 445,000 tons of chloride containing salt in Minnesota each year. Almost all that chloride ends up in our surface water, lakes, rivers and streams where it is toxic to 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 takes only one teaspoon of salt in five gallons of water to exceed water quality standards for chloride and create harmful conditions for freshwater fish, insects and plants. As there is no economically feasible way to remove chloride from water, preventing chloride contamination is critical. Chloride from de-icing is one of the largest contributors to a growing salty water problem in Minnesota.

Tips for creating safe surfaces in winter:

  • Shovel and scrape: The more snow and ice you remove, the less salt is needed to be effective.
  • Watch the temp: Most de-icing salt doesn’t melt ice when pavement temperature is below 15 degrees. Sand doesn’t melt ice but it does provide traction.
  • Mind amounts: If you do need salt, apply the right amount. People often think more salt means more snow and ice melt, and that is just not true. All you need to is about 12 ounces — a coffee mug full — for 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 excess: Sweep and gather 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.
  • 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 are going.
  • Hire right: Businesses who need someone to shovel or plow should hire a certified Smart Salting contractor. Individuals could advocate reducing salt use in your community, at schools, churches, local businesses, and government.

The agency offers training for winter maintenance professionals, property managers, and others on how to provide safe surfaces in winter and minimize harmful environmental impacts. Learn more on the MPCA Smart Salting Training Certification page.

Visit the MPCA's Chloride webpage to learn more about the benefits of being a smart salter.