From the Audubon Society Newsletter

Road Salt and Stream Health

With winter in full swing, so is the necessity to keep people safe during winter weather conditions. Salt is used to help de-ice roads, sidewalks and parking lots, making them safer to use during the winter months.  The amount of salt used for deicing these surfaces has increased recently. PennDOT uses an average of 844,000 tons of salt per year to keep Pennsylvania’s roads free of ice.  Road salt is effective at de-icing roads and other surfaces, but has serious negative effects on aquatic ecosystems.

When winter is over, snow melt and spring rains flush road salt into nearby streams, rivers, and lakes. Some of the salt will also percolate through the soil into the groundwater. Unfortunately, most freshwater fish, insects, amphibians, and plants cannot adapt to the higher salt concentration in the water, making our local waterbodies uninhabitable. With this knowledge PennDOT and local municipalities have made efforts to limit the amount of salt laid on roadways. Unfortunately, these changes might not be enough, as private businesses and homeowners still contribute significantly to the amount of salt introduced to the environment.

So what can you do to help?

  • Plow, shovel, and blow off snow instead of using salt or other deicers to melt it.
  • Choose the correct material and apply the proper amount. Rock salt is not effective at temperatures below 15 F, no matter how much is applied.
  • Pre-wet the salt. Adding brine to salt before it is applied will help speed up the melting process and help keep the salt in place. Pre-wetting salt can reduce application rates by 20%.
  • Be proactive by applying de-icing chemicals prior to snow and ice accumulation. It can reduce the amount of chemicals needed by 30%.
  • Don’t mix salt and sand. Salt is for melting and sand is for traction on top of the ice – they actually work against each other.
  • Be familiar with sensitive areas, such as public and private water supplies and waterbodies, and consider reducing salt use or using alternatives in these areas.


Calling Community Scientists to Help Monitor Local Salinity Levels

ASWP is partnering with Izaak Walton League, a national organization that trains community scientists to measure the amount of salt in their local streams, especially after snowstorms. This kind of data helps to determine the local impact or source of salt pollution.  It can also influence policymaker decisions to mitigate the effects of our increased reliance on road salt.

For more information on about becoming a volunteer community scientist, you can visit https://www.iwla.org/water/stream-monitoring/winter-salt-watch.

Join us for these Upcoming Events:

Click on the links to register!

These events are offered free of cost by Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and the Buffalo Creek Watershed Coalition with support from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Fund and Penn State Extension.

Financial Assistance Available for Farmers and Forested Landowners

Contact Danielle Rihel, Buffalo Creek Watershed Coordinator, for more information at drihel@aswp.org or (724) 295-3589.

PS – our Nature Store at Buffalo Creek Nature Park is open for all of your bird feeding needs: Tuesday-Saturday from 9 – 5.