How to avoid next week‰Ûªs salty water crisis

It’s being found on bus shelter posters, wrapped around buses, and in radio and media advertisements. What is this mass propaganda event? It’s Waterloo’s new Curb the Salt program.

While the region of Waterloo is well known for its environmental awareness programs <em>&ndash;</em>including its environment stewardship programs such as Partners in Parks and Yellow Fish Road, and its water services programs such as Smart about Salt&trade; and Spills Prevention and Response workshops &mdash; the region&rsquo;s salt levels in ground water has increasingly become a problem.

According to Eric Hodgins, manager of hydrogeology and source water in the Waterloo region, &ldquo;Winter maintenance using salt has been ongoing for decades, and the levels in the supply wells are slowly increasing &hellip; It will take 10 to 20 years for [reduction] in the application rates to be seen in the concentrations in the wells.&rdquo;

The provincial drinking water standards for chloride is 250 mg/L and 200 mg/L for sodium. These are the thresholds before drinking water becomes noticeably and uncomfortably salty.

According to Hodgins, while &ldquo;most of the region&rsquo;s drinking water sources are less than half that amount&nbsp; ... some sources are approaching this amount &hellip; which is why the Region is taking action to reduce the impact of winter maintenance.&rdquo;

The Region of Waterloo&rsquo;s own efforts to &ldquo;curb the salt&rdquo; has included using beet juice &ldquo;to help the rock salt stick to the road so more of the salt sticks on the roads,&rdquo; said Hodgins. The city of Kitchener also &ldquo;uses a technique called anti-icing where they spray liquid salt to help reduce the buildup of snow.&rdquo;

&ldquo;For the private contractors,&rdquo; said Hodgins, &ldquo;the best approach for them is to become Smart about Salt certified. This program both educates and provides a structure for the contractors to follow to improve their practices. The region requires certified contractors to bid on region parking lot winter maintenance contracts.&rdquo;

However, the easiest way to reduce salt is of course to not use salt at all, instead making use of de-icing alternatives. However, said Hodgins, &ldquo;Rock salt is the cheapest winter maintenance product and the only one readily available for widespread use.&rdquo; While this may be a worry for the region, this shouldn&rsquo;t stop us from using the friendlier alternatives: sand, kitty litter, and Ecotraction (de-icing volcanic mineral that is good for lawns in the spring).

To take the first step in supporting Curb the Salt, it&rsquo;s important to remember the saying: &ldquo;A little salt goes a long way,&rdquo; which is a good rule of thumb for any de-icing product. Thus, applying more won&rsquo;t speed up the rate at which ice melts, and as with road salt, would only ruin our pavement and soil. According to environment experts at Green Venture Canada, &ldquo;the recommended application rate for rock salt [sodium chloride] is about a handful per square meter treated&rdquo; and even less for other products.&nbsp;