Winter in Minnesota means slippery roads and sidewalks, and residents and workers using salt. When snow and ice melts, most of the salt and sand goes with it. It washes into lakes and streams. Once in the water, there is no way to remove it and it becomes a pollutant. The salt that does not wash away soaks into the ground and damages plant life.   

Salt is unregulated but a real threat to water quality -- the chloride in one teaspoon of road salt can permanently pollute five gallons of water.  At high concentrations, chloride harms: 

  • aquatic organisms
  • community structure in aquatic environments, such as diversity and productivity
  • increased terrestrial bird deaths
  • toxicity to terrestrial plants (because of the inhibition of water and nutrients that high salt concentrations create)

There are many ways to reduce salt use while maintaining high safety standards.

Follow these simple rules to protect our clean water!

1. Shovel! The more snow and ice you remove manually, the less salt you will have to use and the more effective it can be.Keep up with the storm, it’s easier to go out twice and do a little each time than to go out and do it all at once.

2. Shovel more! Break up ice with an ice scraper and decide if application of a de-icer or sand is necessary to maintain traction.

3. More salt does not mean more melting. Use less than 4 pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet (an average parking space is about 150 square feet).  1 pound of salt is approximately a heaping 12-ounce coffee mug.

4. 15 Degrees is too cold for salt. Most salts stop working around this temperature. Use sand instead. Some de-icers are effective below this temperature, follow the “practical melting point” not the “eutectic temperature”.

5. Sweep up extra. If salt is visible on dry pavement it is no longer doing any work and will be washed away. Use this salt somewhere else or throw it in the trash.

Watch training videos by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. They are focused on proper sidewalk maintenance which is helpful to almost anyone!  Click here to watch.

You can plant salt resistant species. The University of Wisconsin provides a great list to help you find a species of tree that is resistant to salt injury. Click here to go to the University's web page.

Salts can range from simple table salt to calcium chloride. Salts are used due to their ability to decrease the freezing point of water. Using calcium chloride is less harmful to the environment than sodium chloride (rock salt) but is more expensive. Whatever product you chose make sure you know at what temperature it stops working. Many labels refer to the eutectic temperature, but it is important to use the practical melting temperature. If it is too cold for salt to work, use sand instead.