Winter Decisions Affect Us in Spring

By Angela Trenkle

As winter snows turn to spring showers, one can’t help but wonder what all that water is washing into our waterways. In winter it’s a common sight to see the roads covered with salt in anticipation of ice and snow. At a glance, this is something to be thankful for: it allows us get out onto the roads and arrive safely to our destinations. Taking a closer look, however, our use of salt on our roadways is problematic for our Inland Bays.

As the temperatures start to rise, the road salt can make its way to the nearby aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Road salt contains high levels of chloride, which can cause harm to both of these ecosystems in various ways. In aquatic ecosystems like our Bays, the introduction of salt to the water (particularly smaller waterways) can reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, which raises the morbidity rate for organisms like small fish, shellfish, and crabs. Additionally, the higher levels of chloride can also affect the availability of food sources to these organisms and can inhibit their growth.

For terrestrial ecosystems, animals such as birds can mistake the salt crystals for seeds and ingest them, inevitably leading to a quick death. Plants, too, are sensitive increased chloride levels in soils and can be killed or prevented from germinating in the springtime.

For humans, extreme salt levels in our aquatic ecosystems can also affect the drinking water supply for those that rely on wells. Higher levels of salt in our drinking water can cause problems for individuals who are following a lower salt diet. Additionally, salt corrodes metal, which causes issues with the pipes in our homes.

Measures that are being done to mitigate these problems are small, but can over time make a powerful impact in our watershed. Solutions that companies are already putting into place include salting the roadways before a storm instead of after (which has less of an impact on the water supply) and mixing the salt with water, sand, or gravel to reduce salt application overall.

It is important over the next year to realize the impact that our winter practices can have on our watershed. You can help next winter by planning ahead to reducing the application of salts (a little goes a long way) and shopping around for a type that contains potassium acetate rather than chloride. As we work together as a community by spreading awareness and taking it one day at a time, together we can make a difference.

Posted Under: Staff Blog