Winter Recipe for a Low Salt Diet (It's For Our Rivers!)

December 20, 2012

With Winter Storm Draco warnings threatening to end Milwaukee's streak of 288 days without significant snowfall, we thought it was important to share some winter weather tips to help protect our rivers.  Road salts may help clear our roads and make driving easier during the winter months, but that salty runoff can raise chloride levels in our rivers, creating a toxic environment for aquatic life.  

We know that we have to clear our driveways and sidewalks of ice and snow for safety, but you can choose the right products and use them correctly to help protect our water resouces.  Luckily, UW-Extension has released some simple tips to help you with that task this winter (adapted from "Snow, Road Salt, and the Chesapeke Bay" by Tom Schueler, Center for Watershed Protection):

  • Shovel Early, Shovel Often
Remove as much snow as you can during the storm if possible.  Deicers work best when there is only a thin layer of snow or ice that must be melted.
  • Check the Label
Check the package closely to see what you're buying - often a product may contain several of the ingredients listed below (in the attached pdf), but the first one listed is usually the main ingredient.  Choose calcium chloride over sodium chloride when you can.
  • Apply Salt Early, but Sparingly
No matter which chloride product you choose, a little goes a long way.  Additional salt won't speed up the melting process.  The recommended application rate for sodium chloride is about a handful per square yard.  Calcium chloride works at much colder temperatures and you need a lot less (about a handful per 3 square yards).
  • Stick to Sand or Bird Seed
Kittly litter and ashes may provide some traction, but sand is cheaper and easier to clean up.  Bird seed is an even better alternative, especially for residential property owners (though be aware this may attract rodents).
  • Avoid Products That Contain Urea
Urea is a form of nitrogen, a fertilizer, when it washes off your driveway, it will eventually end up in your local waters.
  • Avoid Salt Sensitive Plants
Keep de-icing compounds away from such common plants as green ash, hickory, red maple, sugar maple, white pine, Norway spruce, dogwood, redbud, rose, spirea, and hawthorns.  Kentucky blue grass and red fescue don't like salt either.  You may want to use Calcium Magnesium Acetate CMA as a safer alternative.


Check out the attachment to print out a poster version of the tips for yourself and to read about different de-icing ingredients you should be aware of.

Low Salt Diet Poster8x11_2012.pdf443.1 KB