All the salt that we apply to roads and sidewalks ends up in our freshwater. Salt can be an effective deicer, but more isn’t always better. Salt prematurely ages roads and bridges and degrades freshwater lakes and streams. Additionally, skyrocketing salt costs make it a costly road maintenance strategy.
To reduce the County’s use of salt, Walworth County Public Works has implemented several smart-salting practices, including annual equipment calibration, operator education and training, continual analysis of material usage and application, and the increased use of salt brine.
“Walworth County Public Works is committed to reducing our environmental footprint, specifically the amount of salt used during winter maintenance operations,” says Public Works Director Richard Hough. “Over the last four years, we’ve reduced our salt use by nearly 40 percent while maintaining (or improving) safety on roads. We’ve done this by increasing our use of salt brine by over 2,000 percent, implementing operator education and training, continuously analyzing operational strategies, and carefully calibrating our equipment for optimal material distribution.”
Like Walworth County, dozens of Wisconsin municipalities are striving to improve their winter maintenance programs and slow down the salting of our lakes, streams, and drinking water. Many citizens, however, are not aware of the issue. It’s for this reason that the Wisconsin Salt Wise Partnership, a coalition of organizations across the state working together to reduce salt pollution in our lakes, streams, and drinking water, is hosting “Wisconsin Salt Awareness Week” from Monday, January 23, to Friday, January 27.
Wisconsin Salt Awareness Week aims to educate citizens on the issue of salt pollution: how salt impacts freshwater ecosystems, the role of water softening, ideas for teaching kids about salt pollution, and other ways to get involved. Speakers will stream live over YouTube Monday through Friday, from 12:30 to 1 p.m., to share their knowledge and field questions.
Speakers include Sujay Kaushal (University of Maryland), Charlie Paradis (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee), Allison Couture (UW Health), Shannon Haydin (Wisconsin DNR), and Allison Madison (WI Salt Wise). To tune in starting Monday, January 23 at 12:30 p.m., check out the WI Salt Wise YouTube channel or register at www.wisaltwise.com.
To view the Walworth County Public Works Winter Maintenance Manual, visit www.co.walworth.wi.us/331/Highway-Division.
- Levels of chloride, one of the components of salt, are rising at all of the 43 river sites where the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts long-term monitoring across the state—most seeing increases between 1 percent and 4 percent annually and some more than 10 percent annually.
- It only takes 1 teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute 5 gallons of water to a level that is toxic to aquatic life. (Source: Wisconsin Salt Wise)
- According to the DNR, high chloride concentrations can harm fish and fish habitats. Chlorides found in salt draw moisture from fish bodies, which alters their electrolyte balances and can lead to reproductive failure and a higher likelihood of disease.
- Roughly 2.2 billion pounds of chloride flush into Lake Michigan each year, according to a recent study.
- Lake Michigan has become about 7.5 times saltier since the 1800s, according to the same study.
- The average price of salt in Wisconsin has increased from $29.9 per ton in 2001-2002 to $81.8 per ton in 2021-2022.
- Nationwide, we spend over $5 billion annually to repair salt damage to roads and bridges (source).
- One ton of rock salt causes between $800 and $3,300 of damage to buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure (source).