Our watershed: Let’s reduce salty run-off

Lesser Slave Watershed Council Staff

As Albertans in general, and residents of the Northern region of the province specifically, we are well accustomed to the intense winters with frigid temperatures, dramatic snow fall and all that comes with the season.

Being unprepared for winter is dangerous, and brings with it threats to people’s well being! It can be hard to think beyond ourselves and others when it seems everything is frozen under a blanket of snow, but there are a few things the LSWC would like to bring to your attention that can make your life easier, and protect our wild neighbours through the cold weather ahead!

Approximately five million tonnes of chloride salts are released into the Canadian environment each year, mostly from roadways and sidewalks. This salt can enter surface water, soil and groundwater and has negative impacts on these delicate aquatic ecosystems.

Increases in salt in the environment can also harm vegetation and crops, as well as fish and other aquatic species. This salt may come from not only large scale road applications, but also from domestic uses, including applying salt to driveways, back yards and walkways. Although the importance of eliminating ice cannot be understated, alternatives do exist to removing ice without the use of salts. These include:

-Kitty litter – If you have kitty litter handy at home, this is an easy alternative.

-Ashes – If you have a wood burning fireplace at home, ashes can be used to provide traction and will melt ice when it’s sunny because of their ability to absorb sunlight. Just be sure to keep the ashes away from food gardens.

-EcoTraction – A commercially sold alternative to salt. More information can be found at www.ecotraction.com.

-Sand – A relatively inexpensive alternative that provides traction, is eco-friendly and is easy to clean up. It also is able to absorb sunlight, and thus melt ice.

Other ways to minimize salt use at home include:

-Buy your salt alternative early, prior to large storms, to avoid any problems with supply,

-Educate yourself about different salt products and check the label so you know what you are buying. Experts recommend using calcium chloride over sodium chloride (rock salt) as it is effective to -31°C, contains no cyanide and requires less of it to be effective,

-Shovel early and often so that your de-icers can work the most efficiently and you can limit your need for application,

-Try sweeping walkways after shovelling them to remove bits of snow that can later turn to ice,

-Know how close it is safe to apply de-icers to plants, shrubs or trees to avoid irreversible damage to you or your neighbour’s vegetation,

-Avoid products with urea. Urea is an expensive ingredient and is not as effective once the temperatures drop below -6°C. Additionally, although it is a form of nitrogen, and therefore believed to be useful as a fertilizer, only a limited amount will reach your lawn in the spring melt and will likely wash into the water system,

-Apply any products containing salt sparingly – A little salt can go a long way.

By incorporating some of these practices into your winter management routines you can help minimize risks to water quality in our region and do your part to protect our beautiful lakes and rivers!

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