Making Roads and Rivers Less Salty

Making Roads and Rivers Less Salty

By CVC’s Meagan Ruffini, Marketing and Communications Associate

We’re all familiar with the challenges of winter driving. For decades, we’ve used road salt to melt snow and ice to keep our roads safe.

Often we apply more road salt than needed to roadways, walkways, and driveways. A little goes a long way to melt snow and ice and expose the road surface below for greater traction.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of salt are applied to roads and parking lots in the Credit River Watershed. Salt doesn’t simply disappear. It dissolves in water and washes into the nearest lake, river or stream or seeps into the ground. Colder, snowier winters lead to more salt use and higher instream salt concentrations.

Consistently applying salt year-after-year for decades means salt levels in some small urban creeks have a salt level much closer to the ocean than that of a freshwater creek. For example, chloride concentrations (the amount of salt dissolved in water) in Sheridan Creek at Rattray Marsh Conservation Area have already gone up to 6,000 milligrams per litre (mg/L) in response to the early snowfall this year. A healthy freshwater creek has concentrations less than 20 mg/L.

While salt keeps us safe, it impacts our local environment. It’s harmful to wildlife and puts fish like Redside Dace and Brook Trout and other aquatic life at risk. It also affects birds. Some birds eat grit to help with digestion and get poisoned when they mistake salt for grit. It can also damage roadside vegetation and agricultural crops.

Salt also damages our infrastructure and vehicles.

CVC has been collecting chloride data since the 1960s. Our research shows chloride concentrations have been increasing across the watershed year-after-year. We have 11 stations across the watershed that measure key water quality parameters in real-time, every 15 minutes. This gives us a detailed picture of chloride concentrations, which can help us find solutions.

Municipalities are also looking for ways to help. Orangeville is even starting a water softener rebate to help cut salt discharge into Credit River.

Local businesses can also take steps to reduce salt use on their properties. Join Greening Corporate Grounds for a free webinar on November 28 and discover winter maintenance solutions that reduce your use of road salt. You’ll learn how to protect your corporate landscape and the environment using eco-friendly practices, while keeping your property safe for staff and visitors and reducing winter maintenance expenses. To learn more and register visit

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