Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions

Winter with its low temperatures is coming. Snow? Ice? Freezing Rain?

Temperatures dropping, mean that snow and freezing rain are on the way. And so you are probably preparing to break out the winter salthowever, if you don’t salt properly inadvertently you could be leading to pollution in our waterways? 

In the winter, salt helps to keep us safe—it lessens slips and falls and reduces vehicle crashes. This is a good thing. However, excess salt run off hard surfaces into the region streams, rivers, and reservoirs down the storm drain when the ice melts. When salt (chloride) levels get too high, it harms water quality (especially our drinking water), impacts plants and animals, and damages infrastructure and vehicles. Both the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VEQ) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) have identified streams with related water quality impacts. 

Be Effective and Efficient with Salt at Home – Shovel, Treat, Scatter, and Sweep

  • Shovel early and often before snow becomes icy.
  • Treat according to the forecast and temperature. When the temperature is below 15°F, salt won’t work.
  • A little salt goes a long way just a 12 oz coffee mug covers 20 ft of driveway.
  • Sweep up excess salt and store in a sealed container for next time.

Salt, sweep up the excess, and repeat. This should be your routine. Instead of waiting for the rain to wash the salt down our storm drains, you can sweep it up and reuse it for the next winter storm.

Did you know that one teaspoon of salt can permanently pollute 5 gallons of water? So during the winter season, make sure you only apply salt where it is needed and know how much to apply. Salt takes time to work and the colder the temperature outside, the longer it will take to work. 

In fact, salt levels in the Potomac River and Occoquan Reservoir – both of which are local drinking water sources have risen noticeably over the past decades, with average concentrations more than doubling! Salty water is difficult to treat and can lead to increased treatment and maintenance costs for water suppliers.

Salty water also causes corrosion and damage to vehicles, roads, bridges, sidewalks and parking lots leads to higher maintenance and replacements costs. Plus the extra salinity can have a negative impact on freshwater fish and other aquatic life that live in our streams.