Melting Snow: Protect the lakes, rivers (and paws!)

Dog getting paws checked at the Twin Cities Loppet nordic ski race. Photo © Michelle F. Johnson 2011

Sidewalk Salt and Water Quality

As snow and ice melt, it washes into our lakes and the river. The salt and sand sprinkled on hard surfaces, such as sidewalks and driveways, goes with this melting flow and pollutes our lakes, creeks and the river. Once the salt is in the water, there is no way to remove it. Salt is an ongoing threat to water quality.

Just how potent is salt?
The chloride found in one teaspoon of road salt is enough to permanently pollute five gallons of water. Chlorides in high concentrations:

  • negatively impact aquatic organisms
  • harm the structure of aquatic environments by reducing diversity and productivity
  • increase bird deaths
  • damage plants, turf grass, and trees
  • injure the paws of dogs who walk on it

How can you help?

Shovel first
The more snow you can remove from the sidewalk or driveway, the less salt you need. Try to keep up with each snowfall. It’s easier to go outside and shovel two or three times than to remove 10 inches of snow at once.

Let the sun work for you
With the snow mostly removed, even the weaker winter sun has enough power to help melt and dry pavement.

Limit the salt
More salt does not make the snow melt faster. If you must salt, it is recommended that you use less than four pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet.

Need a mental picture of that? An average parking space is about 150 square feet.  A 12 ounce coffee cup will hold about one pound of salt

Is it 15 degrees or colder?  If so, salt will not work. Use sand instead!

Sweep up extra salt
Once the pavement is dry, remove all visible salt. Re-use it later or place it in the trash. Any extra salt you see on the pavement will eventually end up in the lake, creek, or river and negatively impact water quality.

Learn More
>> Minnehaha Creek Watershed District — Keep Our Water Clean
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — Road Salt Education

This artcile was recently published by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.