Here's an easy way to help protect our lakes: Ease up on the salt when clearing snow and ice from pavement.
With freezing drizzle in this week's forecast, now is the time to start being more conscious about what you're putting on your sidewalk, steps and driveway. Stay away from using products that contain chloride because when the ice melts, salt, which contains chloride, runs into storm drains and into nearby lakes, rivers and groundwater.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency notes that it only takes a teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water. "There's no feasible way to remove chloride once it gets into the water, and we are finding increasing amounts of chloride in waters around the state," the MPCA stated in a news release issued last week. "Salty water harms freshwater fish and other aquatic wildlife."
The MPCA said that although no environmentally safe, effective, and inexpensive alternatives to salt are yet available, smart salting strategies can help reduce chloride pollution in state waters. You might think more salt means more melting and safer conditions, but it's not true, according to the experts. Salt will effectively remove snow and ice if it's scattered so that the salt grains are about three inches apart. A coffee mug full of salt - about 12 ounces - is all you need for a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (roughly 1,000 square feet). Consider using a hand-held spreader to apply salt consistently, and use salt only in critical areas.
And sweep up any extra that is visible on dry pavement instead of letting it wash into local waters.
The MPCA provided these additional tips for limiting salt use:
• Shovel. The more snow and ice you remove manually, the less salt you'll have to use and the more effective it can be.
• 15oF 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.
• Slow down. Drive for the conditions and make sure to give plow drivers plenty of space to do their work. Consider purchasing winter (snow) tires.
• Hire a certified Smart Salting contractor. Visit the MPCA's website, www.www.pca.state.mn.us and search for Smart Salting to see a list of winter maintenance professionals specifically trained in limiting salt use.
• Promote smart salting. Work together with local government, businesses, schools, churches, and nonprofits to advocate for reducing salt use in your community.
Learn more on the agency's website at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/chloride-salts.
It's tempting in the ice and snow to take a shortcut by dumping a bunch of salt on your sidewalk or driveway but take a second to think about the harm that could do to our lakes and reach for a shovel or ice chopper instead.