I Didn't Know Road Salt Was a Problem. Then I Discovered Salt Watch.

Amy Ulland
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Salt Watch volunteer

The Salt Watcher of the Month for November 2022 is Amy Ulland! Amy first became interested in stream health in high school when she did water quality work as part of an Earth Science class. Many years later, in 2019, she became a Save Our Streams certified monitor and started benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring of local streams with Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy in Virginia. This is what she had to say about her journey with Salt Watch.

To be honest, I didn’t even think about road salt being a source of pollution in streams until I got involved with Salt Watch in 2019. And even then, it didn’t seem like too big of a deal at a local level. The stream I monitored was in a rural area and always had chloride levels below 35 ppm.

In the fall of 2020, I took on the volunteer position of Stream Monitoring Program Coordinator for Loudoun Wildlife. We slowly started incorporating chloride monitoring into our benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring surveys, and some of our volunteers were interested in doing more.

A year later, a dedicated band of nine volunteers from the Loudoun Wildlife Stream Team accepted my challenge to collect Salt Watch data at 14 sites. By the end of that winter, they had reported over 100 data points! Loudoun Wildlife also became an official Izaak Walton League of America Salt Watch partner organization.

When we looked at our Salt Watch readings and the stream health scores from our benthic macroinvertebrate surveys, there was a definite correlation between elevated chloride levels in winter and unacceptable ecological conditions the following spring.-Amy Ulland

Although the baseline readings at these 14 sites were within the normal range, almost a third of our readings from later in the winter were in the elevated or toxic range. When we looked at the stream health scores from our benthic macroinvertebrate surveys that spring, there was a definite correlation between stream sites with unacceptable or indeterminate ecological conditions and elevated or toxic chloride levels in the winter.

As the Loudoun Wildlife Stream Team discussed these findings, we decided to expand our Salt Watch program in a more targeted manner, with the ultimate goal of using this data to inform outreach and advocacy efforts. We initially identified 26 Salt Watch sites along five streams around the town of Leesburg, Virginia.

In October, we held a virtual kickoff program with Izaak Walton League Salt Watch Coordinator Abby Hileman. The main objective of the kickoff: to recruit volunteers. We had such an overwhelming response to the program that we actually ended up needing to identify more Salt Watch sites to accommodate all the interested volunteers!

Our Loudoun Wildlife Salt Watch Team now has 51 sites monitored by 40 volunteers – ranging from teenagers to families to retirees. Some of these volunteers have worked with Loudoun Wildlife programs before, but many of them are new to community science. They are excited to be able to do something fun that gets them out into nature, while also helping provide important data at the local and national levels.

Loudoun Wildlife plans to use the data collected by our Salt Watch Team to inform future efforts of reaching out to local HOAs and businesses that are close to sites with high winter chloride readings. We hope to help these local property owners understand that they can apply less salt while still keeping driving and parking lot conditions safe – and that doing so will save them money and help improve the quality of our local waterways at the same time.

Get started with Salt Watch

Top photo: One of Amy's volunteers shows a chloride test strip and a "Be Smart Not Salty" sticker – essential materials for monitoring and advocacy.

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