We’ve all seen road salt on the road before a snowstorm or felt the crunch of salt under our feet as we walk into the grocery store. According to the Izaak Walton League, we use 10 to 20 million tons of road salt every year. But where does all that salt go when the storm is over?
This winter season, the Pike County Conservation District (PCCD) is participating in a practice run of the Winter Salt Watch Program through the Izaak Walton League. The program involves testing water during the course of a winter storm to determine if/how much road salt is getting into our local streams. The Izaak Walton League started the Winter Salt Watch program as a means to gather data on how much road salt is getting washed into our freshwater. They do not aim to eliminate the use of road salt entirely, but to increase awareness for citizens, business owners, and townships about efficiently using salt without overapplying and using alternatives if any are available. If we are overapplying salt, we are also washing away our money!
The effects of increased salt in our freshwater streams have not yet been thoroughly studied. Here in Pike County, we have high quality (HQ) and exceptional value (EV) streams. These are among some of the best quality streams in the state of Pennsylvania. These streams also contain sensitive creatures such as fish and macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects) whose health and presence are tied directly to the stream health. These creatures are adapted to freshwater conditions and a significant increase in salinity could lead to adverse effects.
Most of Pike County also depends on wells and ground water as a source of drinking water. According to the Izaak Walton League, more than 118 million Americans depend on local streams for drinking water. Salt can get into our freshwater streams and thus into our groundwater supplies. The extra salt could end up directly in our drinking water and potentially corrode metal pipes.
If you are interested in monitoring your local stream, the Izaak Walton League offers FREE test kits to participants of this program. The kit includes four test strips to be used at certain points during the course of a snowstorm. Participants also take a Salt Watch Pledge to reduce road salt use personally, spread the knowledge to others such as neighbors and friends, and to use the free kit to test the water near them. All participants have to do is take the test strips down to their creek with a cup, scoop some water in the cup, and let the test strip sit for about 10 minutes. At the end, you’ll have a chloride reading of the stream!
The League has a database through Water Reporter where the data nationwide is submitted and available for viewing! If you have any questions or are interested in participating, please visit the Izaak Walton League’s website at Winter Salt Watch (iwla.org) or contact us here at the Pike County Conservation District. Have a safe winter and happy sampling!