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As the first snow of the season arrives, Minnesotans start
thinking about clearing snow and ice from pavement — sometimes with salt. But
when the snow melts or it rains, the salt, which contains chloride, runs into
storm drains and into nearby lakes, rivers, and groundwater.
We scatter an estimated 365,000 tons of salt in the metro area
each year. But it only takes a teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute five
gallons of water. There’s no feasible way to remove chloride once it gets into
the water, and we are finding increasing amounts of chloride in waters around
the state. Salty water harms freshwater fish and other aquatic wildlife.
Though no environmentally safe, effective, and inexpensive
alternatives to salt are yet available, smart salting strategies can help
reduce chloride pollution in state waters. You might think more salt means more
melting and safer conditions, but it’s not true! Salt will effectively remove
snow and ice if it’s scattered so that the salt grains are about three inches
apart (see this illustration for a visual reference. If you publish the graphic, credit the Regional Stormwater Protection Team).
A coffee mug full of salt (about 12 ounces) is all you need for a 20-foot
driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (roughly 1,000 square feet). Consider using a
hand-held spreader to apply salt consistently, and use salt only in critical
And sweep up any extra that is visible on dry pavement. It is no
longer doing any work and will be washed away into local waters.
Additional tips for limiting salt use: