Clean Water Corner: Successes for Salt Watch

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Uncovered salt pile - credit Jared Mott

Preventing pollution from entering waterways is one of the League’s most basic missions. So preventing overuse of road salt by private salt applicators and homeowners is a vital goal.

After months where many parts of the U.S. saw serious winter weather with ice and snow, the Clean Water Team is working to incorporate recent experiences, data and lessons learned to help keep chloride pollution out of our streams, pipes and drinking water. A major unchecked source of excess salt is typically private contractors tasked with treating pavement with deicers.

Toward the end of this cold, wet winter, we were seeing many examples of excessive oversalting, and our data from Salt Watch volunteers backs that up. Shocking amounts in Salt Watch readings exceeded levels that are considered safe for wildlife or drinking water.

In spite of dangerously high salt readings in some places, we can point to progress and success in several areas.

Virginia salt spills reported - and cleaned up!

Toward the end of this cold, wet winter, we were seeing many examples of excessive oversalting, and our data from volunteers backs that up: Shocking amounts in Salt Watch readings exceeded levels that are considered safe for wildlife or drinking water.

In December of 2023, Jared Mott, the League’s Conservation Director, noticed a large, uncovered salt pile in a parking lot outside a fitness center in Reston, Va. In Virginia, salt piles are required to be covered to prevent excess salt washing to storm drains and waterways. The League provided photos to our partners at the Reston Association who immediately viewed the salt piles and scoped out the drainage point in the parking lot and nearby stream for monitoring.

The Association also contacted Fairfax County for guidance. As a result of these actions, the fitness center’s snow removal company completely removed the uncovered salt about one week after the initial report. The chloride levels in the nearby stream did increase, but due to the lack of wet weather, the increase was minimal.

If you see uncovered salt piles or salt spills in your community, report it! Many counties or townships have a non-emergency 311 number to report issues like this. Alternatively you may be able to report spills to your local department of natural resources or department of transportation.

Minnesota chapter tackles oversalting

In 2023, Abby Hileman, the League’s Salt Watch Coordinator, gave a presentation to the W.J. McCabe Chapter in Duluth, Minn. The chapter had invited members from the League of Women Voters to attend that presentation, as road salt pollution was on their mind. At that time, there was a bill pending in the state legislature that offered limited liability protection to contracted road salt applicators who pass a voluntary smart salt applicator training course and maintain best practices for treating roads. That bill was pulled but now the Izaak Walton League and our partner groups are advocating for a similar bill that was just introduced in Minnesota.

In January, to increase awareness and momentum, the chapter along with the League of Women Voters recently hosted a webinar with representatives from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to discuss that state’s Green SnowPro program. New Hampshire is currently the only state with limited liability protection for salt applicators who pass the state’s certification program and maintain best practices.

Maryland pilots statewide applicator training

In late 2023 and into early 2024, the Maryland Department of the Environment piloted a statewide salt applicator training to give private snow removal contractors the tools and information they need to treat roadways, parking lots and sidewalks with the minimum amount of salt needed to keep the public safe. Clean Water Program staff Sam Puckett and Abby Hileman both weighed in on the initial training materials and outline, and they also took the training course to ensure it is effective, accurate and scalable for the larger applicator community. Promising practices in Maryland, which the League supports, continue to provide an inspiring model for other states.

Salt Watch map - credit IWLAThe Clean Water Hub database shows Salt Watch datapoints from January 1 to January 31, 2024. Red dots depict readings over 230 ppm of chloride, which is chronically toxic to aquatic life.

Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative prioritizes Salt Watch

In late 2023, the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative (CMC) published a new Prioritization Report to document data gaps that the CMC intends to fill to ensure there is a clear understanding of water quality in the Bay watershed.

In this report, the CMC highlighted the League’s Salt Watch program as a priority moving forward, stating “Salt Watch is a natural fit for the CMC to explore crowd-sourced monitoring models that can engage a large audience, shine a spotlight on specific pollution issues, and drive policy and restoration decisions within the watershed… Integrating Salt Watch data into the CMC will widen the geographic and temporal dataset collected within the program and increase access by federal, state and local agencies who are concerned about the impacts to their community.”

We hope that this prioritization of Salt Watch will help the program grow in the numbers of volunteers gathering data and number of state agencies using Salt Watch data to drive environmental and transportation policy. Read the report.

Clean Water Hub updates encourage data use

The Clean Water Hub has undergone some serious transformation. We have moved all Salt Watch data submission to the Clean Water Hub itself, which allows data to be accessible to monitors and the public immediately upon submission, rather than after data has been organized and reuploaded by Clean Water Program staff.

New this year, Hub visitors are also able to view all Salt Watch data on the Clean Water Hub map (simply go to and click on “Salt Watch” under the “Explore Data” tab), filter by specific dates, and zoom in to any region of the country, including your ZIP code. Check it out and use the data to raise awareness in your community.

Salt Watch is a program of the Izaak Walton League of America that aims to reduce chloride pollution by equipping volunteers with free test kits to monitor the impact of road salt and advocating for solutions that protect the health of our waterways, drinking water and infrastructure. Request a kit.

Top photo: League staff spotted and reported this salt pile in Reston, Va. Left uncovered, piles of road salt leach harmful levels of chloride into local waterways during a rain or snow melt. Credit: Jared Mott.