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
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
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
What's the Source of all that Salt?
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.