While salt keeps Wisconsin roads safe during winter, using more salt than needed comes at a price. In Wisconsin and much of the U.S., chlorides from salt are infiltrating lakes, streams, and groundwater. According to Wisconsin Salt Wise, one teaspoon of salt is all it takes to make five gallons of water toxic for freshwater organisms.
The DNR measures chloride levels in Wisconsin rivers over time, monitoring cumulative chloride loading results at 26 of the state’s largest river systems. Recent studies have shown a steep increase in chloride loads. In the early 2000s, the DNR measured about 600,000 tons of chlorides annually. By 2018, that number increased to nearly 800,000 tons per year. Fifty lakes and one stream in Wisconsin have been designated as impaired by high salt concentrations.
These increased chloride loads are partly due to road salting, but chlorides also enter Wisconsin waters because of water softeners and fertilizers.
Reducing salt use is key to decreasing chloride loads. Follow these steps to right-size your salt use:
Shovel: Clear walkways and other areas before the snow turns to ice. The more snow removed manually, the less salt you will need and the more effective it will be.
Scatter: When using salt, scatter it so that there is space between the grains. A 12-ounce coffee mug of salt is enough to treat an entire 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares. If you see oversalting, follow these simple steps to help educate others about salt.
Switch: Salt won’t work when pavement temperatures drop below 15 degrees. Switch to sand for traction or a different ice melter that works at lower temperatures.