Press Release

Tracking road salt pollution, Izaak Walton League launches winter Salt Watch stream monitoring

11/13/2020

Gaithersburg, MD – With the beginning of colder weather, the Izaak Walton League is launching its fourth year of Salt Watch across the US. This program uses volunteers to monitor levels of road salt (sodium chloride) pollution in local streams. The League will distribute thousands of kits in more than a dozen states.

“Excessive salt harms wildlife and human health, which is why we carefully monitor local salt levels,” says Emily Bialowas who runs the Winter Salt Watch program at the Izaak Walton League. “We need to keep an eye on salt pollution in our streams and collect data about that every year. So, we’re very grateful for our local Winter Salt Watch volunteers and partners who make this happen. This is an easy, quick and free way to test your stream for this type of pollution.”

“We also need to advocate for more efficient use of salt on roads and sidewalks by transportation authorities and property owners.”

Last winter, 2019-20, the Izaak Walton League distributed test kits to about 1,000 volunteers who documented salt levels in streams across 19 states. Salt Watch data from each collection site is loaded into a national database which is available to researchers and policymakers.  The Izaak Walton League hopes that robust data collection over successive years will help establish reliable baseline information and pinpoint pollution problems so local authorities can address road salt problems and adopt better practices.

What’s the Problem?

Freshwater lakes and streams should have low to no salt content. Levels above 100 parts per million (ppm) exceed naturally occurring concentrations of salt. According to the EPA, concentrations above 230 ppm are toxic to aquatic life with prolonged exposure. Excess salt in drinking water can be a problem for people with high blood pressure and other health conditions that require a low-sodium diet

While road salt can improve driving safety during icy conditions, the salt eventually washes into watersheds where it damages the quality of drinking water and harms aquatic life in freshwater streams and lakes. More than 100 million Americans depend on local streams for drinking water, but water treatment plants are not equipped to filter salt. 

Data and maps from the Salt Watch campaign can be found at www.iwla.org/saltwatchresults.

Salt Watch and Best Practices

The Izaak Walton League created Winter Salt Watch to give volunteers the tools to identify excess road salt in streams and other waterways.

The program aims to ensure transportation safety while protecting clean water through best practices, including:

  • Tailoring salt-application strategies to the weather and the product being used. For example, certain road salts, such as sodium chloride, are only effective at ambient temperatures over 20 degrees. At lower temperatures, this product does not protect drivers and only exacerbates water pollution when weather gets warmer.
  • Calibrating salt spreaders on salt trucks and using road-temperature sensors. Calibrated salt spreaders allow for a better understanding of how salt is being applied. Greater use of temperature sensors can dramatically reduce excess applications before predicted storms. If road temperatures are above freezing, pre-treatment might not be needed, or the amount of salt applied could be dramatically reduced.
  • Training and certification for snowplow drivers and contractors who maintain walkways, parking lots and service roads on private property. Testing by Salt Watch volunteers and the experience of state and local governments demonstrate that excessive salt application is common among private contractors, but simple training can quickly improve their practices.
  • Understanding how salt levels affect corrosion of drinking water pipes and how to prevent corrosion, which can increase levels of lead and other dangerous metals in drinking water.

Warm weather coupled with reduced streamflow during the summer months means chloride levels will be even more concentrated, putting stress on wildlife and drinking water treatment plants. So it is vital to decrease road salt application in the winter months to conserve water resources, protect wildlife, and maintain safe drinking water.

Resources

Read Road Salt: Way Too Much of a Good Thing in Outdoor America, Issue 1, 2020 and visit www.iwla.org/saltwatch. See www.iwla.org/road-salt-best-practices for details on state and local best management practices.

Contacts:

Michael Reinemer, Izaak Walton League communications, mreinemer@iwla.com, 703-966-9574.

Emily Bialowas, Izaak Walton League Winter Salt Water leader, ebialowas@iwla.com, 914-980-8411

Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America protects America's outdoors through education, community-based conservation, and promoting outdoor recreation. The League’s Save Our Streams program, created more than 50 years ago, organizes local volunteers who provide stream monitoring and clean-up efforts throughout the U.S. www.iwla.org

 


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