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Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority

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​​​​Excessive salt use on parking lot near stormwater drain.

Lake Simcoe Science

Halt the Salt

​Salty Lake Simcoe 

Several issues ago, we wrote about the topic of winter salt - also known as sodium chloride - and its environmental impact on the watershed. We explained that winter salt damages infrastructure, is destructive to freshwater ecosystems, and can contaminate drinking water supplies. 

We shared our research that confirms an increasing trend of chloride concentrations in our waterways year round. We highlighted population growth as a challenge to curbing our winter salt habit. Increased development necessitates increased salt use because we have more paved surfaces.

Finally, we offered advice about proper winter salt management. Since that issue, we’ve been busy working with other agencies to get a better understanding of the scope of the problem and to find solutions to reduce reliance on winter salt, without compromising public safety. 

What We've Learned 

Not enough people know how harmful winter salt is. Through anecdotal evidence, we’ve learned that the average person is not aware of the significant damaging effects of winter salt. Perhaps the question: how can something we eat be bad for our environment, underlies that assumption?

We use more salt than we need to. Municipalities have demonstrated that they can reduce the amount of salt they use without compromising public safety. The City of Barrie has taken a leadership role in reducing winter salt use by applying best management practices, while continuing to maintain the same level of public safety. 

Roads and parking lots are salty. Making a dent in the amount of winter salt we use means addressing roads and parking lots, the largest contributors of winter salt. This doesn’t mean the average home or small business owner is off the hook. But it does give us a clearer path forward.

What's the Source of all that Salt?

Sources of salt include roads and highways, commercial and residential parking areas.While road authorities must abide by established provincial regulations around snow clearing and maintenance, the regulations aren’t always straightforward, because they consider variables such as weather forecasts. 

Commercial and institutional parking lots lack clear guidelines and protocols. While the Smart About Salt® Council has done extensive research on winter salt application and has implemented a best management practices protocol - including training and a certification program - it’s a voluntary program. 

For this and other reasons, it’s seems that fear of liability, potential lawsuits, lack of training and best management practices have led to the consistent over-application of winter salt. 

A handful of winter salt.Maybe it’s all in our heads? In the absence of clear guidelines, fear of litigation is understandable. But the reality is we don’t know if that fear is warranted. At present, there are no studies that have examined how many lawsuits have been filed and what the outcomes have been. 

Public education is only part of the solution. We’ve heard it time and again… if only more people knew what the problem was, they’d change their behaviour and the problem would be solved. Right? Not quite. Before we can change behaviour, we need to address the reasons why people feel they can’t or don’t want to change their behaviour. 

What We're Doing

Partnering for Change. We think the answers depend on collaboration. We’ve created a Salt Working Group, bringing together experts from the public sector, private sector, nongovernmental organizations, legal community and regulators.

Informing Guidelines. This winter our researchers will be using a friction tester to track the results of salt application on various surfaces in the watershed. The goal is to determine the right amount of salt to achieve safe conditions. Our friction tester uses the same technology as airport testers. 

Parking Lot Design with Winter in Mind. We’ve developed design guidelines for commercial and institutional parking lots. If these guidelines are followed, less winter salt is required. We’re also encouraging municipalities to incorporate these guidelines into their policies. 

A excessive amount of of winter salt in a parking lot.The Solutions 

You are Key to the Solution. What you can do for the environment when it comes to winter salt use is best summed up with three P’s: Preparation, Patience and Pressure. 

Preparation: Shovel your driveway and sidewalk as soon as possible so ice doesn’t have a chance to form. Wear sturdy winter boots. Use snow tires. Redirect downspouts away from paved areas so ice can’t form.

Patience: When it snows it often takes longer to get places. Consider leaving early, or accept that you may be late. This is winter in Canada! 

Pressure: If you see excessive salt being applied, put pressure on the property owner. Tell them about the environmental consequences of applying too much. Ask them to contact us. We can direct them to agencies like Smart About Salt® to have their staff or contractors trained in correct winter salt use.​