Tips to minimize salt use on walkways and keep waterways clean

Published: Jan. 22, 2023 at 6:58 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 22, 2023 at 11:19 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - One of the most popular weapons against slippery roads and paths is salt, but it can also be harmful to the environment.

Salt, or sodium chloride, lowers the freezing point of water, which prevents ice from forming and snow from sticking to surfaces. But when it runs off our pathways and roads and into the water supply, it creates problems for plants and animals.

One of the areas where salt is having an impact is Lake Champlain. Researchers have found that the lake is getting saltier every year. Which could make it more difficult for natural lake processes to happen.

“What we’ve seen across the world and right here in the Lake Champlain Basin is a process called salinization, where the freshwater system is actually getting saltier. Plankton, amphibians, and fish species can all be sensitive to this increased saltiness in the water. And that can have long-term impacts on the ecosystem that can impact biodiversity,” said Matthew Vaughn, the chief scientist for the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

To combat this, Vaughn says homeowners can take a few easy steps to minimize excess salt use and keep Lake Champlain safe. “If you’re applying salt to your driveway or to your walkways, try to space it out, so there are three inches of space between each salt rock. Shovel as much as you can just from mechanically removing ice and snow without salt. And think about the temperature of the surface you’re applying sodium chloride. The most common de-icing salt only works down to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything colder than that, the sodium chloride is not going to be effective,” said Vaughn.

Although the salt levels are increasing, scientists say as of right now, we are still well below benchmark values for drinking water standards and aquatic toxicity for fish.