Skip to main content

Contact: Suzan C. Limberg, DNR Storm Water Program Coordinator or 608-438-3055

DNR Reminds Wisconsinites To Reduce Salt Use This Winter

Chlorides Impact Our Environment, Economy And Infrastructure

Damaged shoes on salted pavement in the city during winter season. While salt keeps Wisconsin roads safe during winter, using more than needed comes with a hefty price. Photo credit: iStock/Михаил Руденко

MADISON, Wis. – Reduce salt usage this winter and help improve Wisconsin’s freshwater ecosystems. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Wisconsin Salt Wise remind Wisconsin residents of the negative impacts of chlorides and best practices for responsible salt use during Wisconsin Salt Awareness Week, Jan. 11-15, 2021.

Throughout the week, Wisconsin Salt Wise will host daily livestreams on YouTube from 12:30-1 p.m., featuring experts on topics ranging from lake science to water softeners. Additionally, property managers can attend a virtual Smart Salting Training on Thursday, Jan. 14.

While salt keeps Wisconsin roads safe during winter, using more than needed comes with a hefty price. In Wisconsin and much of the U.S., chlorides from salt are infiltrating our lakes, streams and groundwater. These increased chloride levels have significant impacts on our daily lives, including environmental and economic effects, corrosion of bridges, roads and other infrastructure, and even impacts on pets.

The DNR measures chloride levels in Wisconsin rivers over time, monitoring cumulative chloride loading results at 26 of the state’s largest river systems. Recent studies have shown a steep increase in chloride loads. In the early 2000s, the DNR measured about 600,000 tons of chlorides annually. By 2018, that number increased to nearly 800,000 tons per year.

These increased chloride loads are due in part to road salting, but chlorides also enter Wisconsin waters because of water softeners and fertilizers. Smart salt usage is the key to reducing chloride loads.

Tips For Wisconsin Residents

Wisconsinites are encouraged to practice cautious winter salting by following these steps:

  • Shovel: Clear walkways and other areas before the snow turns to ice. The more snow you remove manually, the less salt you will have to use and the more effective it will be.
  • Scatter: When using salt, scatter it so that there is space between the grains. A coffee mug of salt is actually enough to treat an entire 20-foot driveway or ten sidewalk squares. If you see oversalting, follow these simple steps.
  • Switch: When pavement temperatures drop below 15 degrees, salt won’t work. Switch to sand for traction or a different ice melter that works at lower temperatures.

Water softeners can also be part of the chloride problem. Find out if yours is salt wise with this diagnostic tool.

Statewide Reduction Efforts

The DNR works to reduce chlorides at the source through permitting programs for municipalities and industries. These measures include tuning up or replacing water softeners, identifying significant chloride contributors and finding reductions, process efficiencies or improvements and instituting sewer use ordinances.

Additionally, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation works with Wisconsin counties to reduce road salt application using brine and pre-wetting road surfaces, both of which significantly reduce salt use.

For more information on the DNR’s efforts to monitor chlorides and reduce their effects, visit the DNR website. To learn more about Salt Awareness Week and Wisconsin Salt Wise, including incentives for reducing salt use and free training opportunities, click here.