Road Salt: The Basics
What's the problem with road salt?
Road salt is important for helping people travel safely in the winter. But road salt doesn't stay on roads: it washes off into streams, where it damages the quality of our drinking water and hurts critters that aren't adapted to life in salty environments. Learn more about the history of road salt, how much we use, and why it's a problem for stream health.
Okay, but don't we still need salt for safety reasons? What are you really suggesting?
Yes, salt is needed. We are not pushing a “salt ban.” We hope that salt can be used in smarter ways and in smaller quantities moving forward. Alternative approaches include brine or sand application. Read more about alternatives to salt.
It's summer now, so I don't need to worry about road salt, right?
Unfortunately, no. Research finds that road salt can continue to pollute streams in the summer, and that aquatic life may be even more sensitive to salt in warmer weather. Learn why.
Your Salt Watch Test Kit
Why do you need my address?
We need your address to send you the Salt Watch kit. We will not use your mailing address for any other purposes, and your personal information will not be shared outside the Izaak Walton League.
What comes in my Salt Watch test kit?
Your kit will include four easy-to-use test strips, plus a postcard with all the information you need to take salt readings and submit your results. To use your kit, you'll need access to a stream, a small container (like a juice glass) to hold some water, a camera to take a photo of your results, and a computer or smartphone so you can submit your findings.
Are these tests safe?
The tests are safe and do not use chemicals. The top of the strip may turn your fingers blue, but it is not harmful.
When should I use my Salt Watch kit?
You can use your kit any time you can safely approach a waterway. But it's especially important to test salt levels around the time of events that cause those levels to change. Those times are:
- Before a winter storm, to find out the "normal" level of salt in your stream
- After salt has been applied to roads
- After the first warm day or rainstorm following a snow or freeze
- After the next rain event
What waterways can I test with my Salt Watch kit?
You can test any freshwater ecosystem, including rivers, streams, and lakes. Estuaries and oceans contain naturally occurring salt, so there is less of a need to test their chloride concentrations.
What should I put the water in for my test?
A small, clean juice glass will work. We do ask that you avoid paper cups because the bleach in paper products will affect the test results.
I need more help understanding how to do this test.
This video demonstrates the entire Salt Watch test, while also catching you up on the history of Salt Watch – all in just five minutes.
My chloride readings were higher than 634 parts per million (ppm). The numbers on the results chart don't go that high. What should I do?
If you get levels that are “off the charts,” we can send you high-range chloride strips, which measure levels from 600 to 3,000 ppm.
Okay, I got my results! How do I submit them??
Download the Water Reporter app (free for iPhone and Android), create an account, and join the Izaak Walton League group! We’ve got it all here in our step-by-step instructions. You can also use Water Reporter on a computer. Simply visit www.waterreporter.org.
Can you explain that again for us less-computer-savvy folks?
This three-minute video walks you through the whole process.
What is a hashtag, and why do I need to add one to my results?
A hashtag (#) is an easy way to mark social media content so others can find it. Using the #SaltWatch hashtag for your posts allows us to quickly find and share your post within Water Reporter.
Other Ways of Testing
I would like more than four chloride test strips. Can you send me more?
Unfortunately, not at this time. You can order more chloride test strips online from Amazon. Please note: Every batch of chloride strips has a slightly different scale. So if you purchase your own supply of strips, please compare test results to the scale provided with your strips (not the scale on the postcard included with your Salt Watch kit).
I already have the Hach Chloride Test Strips. Can I use those?
Yes! Just make sure that when you submit your results photo, you take a picture of your strip next to the scale on the bottle. (Every batch has a slightly different scale.) And double-check the expiration date on the bottle to ensure your strips haven’t expired!
I own a conductivity meter. Can I use that to take part in Winter Salt Watch?
Yes, you can join in Salt Watch by using a conductivity meter. In fact, it will likely yield more accurate results than the test strips, and we would love to have that data on our map. We can send you Salt Watch cards without the strips, or you can choose to take a picture of your stream and comment on the results you find.
Understanding Your Results
Why are we testing for chloride? Shouldn’t we be testing for salt?
There is no way to specifically test for road salt. Chloride is a main ingredient in road salt and other conventional deicers, so we instead test for chloride.
Are these tests EPA approved?
No, this data is not as accurate as chloride readings done by state or federal agencies. These strips are much more economical for volunteers to use and provide a big-picture look at chloride levels so you can alert local authorities when there is a spike.
I have a large group and would like to see just my group's results on a Water Reporter map. Can this be done?
Yes. Add another hashtag to your post, such as #SpringfieldSaltWatch, and you will be able to search for only the posts that use the hashtag you create. Just make sure the hashtag is not already in use by another group by searching for it on Water Reporter.
I found out that excessive road salt is a problem in my community! What can I do?
There are several ways you can take action to protect your local streams while also making sure travelers are safe!
- Call your city or county department of environmental protection to report high chloride levels or large salt piles (either piles spilled on the road or uncovered piles awaiting future use).
- Write a Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper or other news outlet to educate your community about this issue. You can start with our sample letter and adapt it for your use. (Download the Word file or PDF.)
- Share road salt best practices with your community managers and state agencies.
What else can I do to support clean water in my community?
You can subscribe to our clean water newsletter for monthly updates on ways you can take action for better water quality in your community. Or, please consider making a donation to support our clean water work.