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The impacts of road salt on local waterways

Katie Thorsen

Last week, Governor Evers vetoed a bill that would have created a state-run program on safe salt use.

He said he was concerned that the legislation created broad immunity from liability in slip-and-fall suits.

In the winter, in an attempt to reduce slips and falls on the ice, it’s not uncommon to walk across a sidewalk with a crunchy layer of salt.

A member of a public Merrill community FaceBook Group recently asked about the impact road salt has on our local waterways.

It turns out salt can have a big negative impact on rivers and streams, especially when used in excess.

Road salt melts snow, turning it into salty water that seeps into our sewers, drains, rivers, creeks, and soil.

Salt reduces zooplankton populations, which in turn reduces algal and fish populations.

This is Allison Madison, Program Manager at Wisconsin Salt Wise.

“From an environmental standpoint, outside of human health, we see that salt is a stressor to the organisms that have evolved to live in freshwater,” she said.

Rod Ackey is the city administrator, city engineer, and public works director of Merrill.

He explained that the town follows safe salting standards as laid out by Wisconsin Safe Salt.

“The bigger issues are the private businesses. Take, for example, a hospital or a clinic where they have people walking in, in and out. They're more prone to spread more so than they should because it's cheaper to do that than pay a slip and fall claim as far as insurance goes,” explained Ackey.

In Wisconsin, the levels of sodium and chloride, two components of salt, in our water have increased every year.

This is Allison Madison, Program Manager at Wisconsin Salt Wise.

“I know in upstate New York, there are a number of households [where] people can't drink their water anymore, because it's gotten too salty, and so they have to buy bottled water,” said Madison.

Madison says it’s most important to maximize your mechanical removal of snow.

“That sounds kind of fancy, but it really just means like, if you're going out there with a shovel, right, like shovel it off, right?” she explained.

Then, you should calibrate the amount of salt you use with the amount you need.

If the temperature is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, switch to sand because your salt won’t melt as effectively.

Madison worked on the bill that would have created a state-run program on safe salt use that the Governor recently vetoed.

She said that she believes the Wisconsin Association for Justice misconstrued the legislation to Governor Evers and other Democrats.

“They, I think, just really kind of misconstrued what this legislation was, and what it was going to do and made the governor feel like this wasn't going to be a safe and workable solution, even though it is working. It has worked in New Hampshire for 10 years,” said Madison.

She said she plans to still try to work with the governor’s office on safe salt legislation.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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