Some choose to chop ice off their driveways because salt is bad for the lake

A Plain Dealer reporter chopped his icy driveway; doesn’t like salting

By Gregory Jackson

rock salt

Rock salt residue like this has become a common sight on winter roadways and walkways.

Last week Groundz wrote a story about rock salt application in deicing winter roadways and made an observation linking its possible relationship with decline in Monarch butterfly and other pollinator species because of soil salt concentrates.  Some avoid salting their driveways all together.

“I’m sore after chopping ice in my driveway,” said a Plain Dealer reporter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  “I don’t want to hurt the Lake (Erie) and create all that runoff.”

Last August Groundz reported that when half a million people in Toledo, Ohio went without drinking water for three days, the toxic levels of microcystin may not have been as high or pose a health threat if farmers near the Maumee River used compost instead of soluble fertilizer spray.

Former Mayor D. Michael Collins gave a toast with Toledo tap water to show it was safe to drink; he passed away a few months ago from cardiac arrest while driving and his SUV crashed into a utility pole.  After the toxic algae blooms last August, Mayor Collins committed to improving water quality and it is yet to be seen if City Council President and Interim Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson will maintain Collins’ continued water improvement efforts.  He died February 6, 2015 at age 70 and is survived by his wife, Sandy Drabik and three daughters.

Road salt is affecting freshwater ecosystems, which is being measured in salinity and chloride for URI Watershed Watch in Rhode Island.

“Here at URI Watershed Watch we measure salinity in parts per thousand, and chloride in parts per million,” said Linda Green, program director for URI Watershed Watch, monitoring freshwater lakes in Rhode Island.  “Freshwater lakes in RI in undeveloped, wooded areas have ~5-10 ppm chloride, where our urbanized lakes have 100-200 ppm.”

When studies are conducted that determine if our Great Lakes are in peril from anthropogenic causes, scientists use multiple stress factors, variables that affect our lakes throughout the year.  Invasive species like zebra mussel and lamprey, climate change (more appropriately carbon cycle imbalances), phosphorous from agricultural runoff, and urban contaminants like road salt from deicing.

Lake Erie chloride contamination is due to human activities, according to Walt Kelly of the Illinois State Water Survey, who authored “Our Stressed Great Lakes.”  Since the 1970’s chloride levels in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario have risen.  Chloride stays in freshwater systems if not flushed out.

“An issue with chloride in water (which also comes from fertilizers, septic systems, leaky sewers) is freshwater aquatic ecosystems that chloride is not taken up and used by the plants like phosphorous,” said Green.  “It stays put, unless it is washed downstream.”

Kris Stepenuck, a colleague and friend of Green runs a citizen action stream monitoring program in Wisconsin.  Volunteers monitor conductance in collecting stream water samples near them and have discovered exceeding of both acute and chronic chloride Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.  The program has expanded into Iowa and Michigan thanks to a Great Lakes Regional Water Program grant.

“But starting in the 1980s, chloride levels have started to go back up,” writes Kelly, “and this is almost certainly due to increased road salt runoff.”

The stressed Great Lakes report observes that water in Lake Michigan stays there for about 100 years, travelling in circular direction in a clockwise pattern, while water in Lake Erie stays there about three years and Lake Ontario for six years.  Lake Michigan provides an ideal long-term water quality study on the affects of chloride from rock salt runoff.

When we spread excessive amounts of rock salt, it just does not stay where we apply it.

“It is generally acknowledged that salt introduced into streams has a net negative affect on aquatic life,” said Mike Durkalec, aquatic biologist at Cleveland Metroparks.  “In general, I would expect fish community in a stream that gets more salt runoff to shift towards more pollution tolerant species.”

2015 is the Year of Clean Water, of the City of Cleveland’s Sustainability 2019 goals, and our habits of over-salting roadways and driveways do find their way into our waterways as observed by the Euclid Creek Volunteer Monitoring program.  In the winter months, conductivity of salt in freshwater clears 2,000 micros/cm, conductivity is the amount of dissolved solids in water.  The easiest way to reduce salt runoff is to use only enough salt to break up ice so the ice can be shoveled off, salt is not meant to melt ice.  You can make your own salt/sand/coconut coir/grounded corn husk mix, or chop.

“It’s not going to work if I just do it,” said the Plain Dealer reporter.  “Everyone has got to do less salting and more chopping.”

Every single stream in the United States has been affected by fertilizer, pesticide, and urban area runoff, according to the Water Quality in the Lake Erie-Lake Saint Clair Drainage” report by the United States Geological Survey.  For this reason, Groundz position is to increase the available organic compost material for farming and growing crops to help improve water quality and improve aquatic ecosystems.

“Tills in the Lake Erie-Lake Saint Clair Drainages contain a high content of clay,” the report writes, “which slows infiltration of rainfall into the ground.”  However high clay content is excellent for binding organic content in the soil; if you sprinkle/roll into your compost the clay, you begin to build soil fertility that can last up to a hundred years.  Compost alone can leach out of the soil after a couple years, without clay.  Added compost can also make plants stronger and cease using pesticide, since insects know if a plant is sick or weakened by undernourishment; in cold-weather crops, frost actually helps them grow healthy and nutrient-dense.

How runoff affects aquatic ecosystems relate to their impact on food webs and the proliferation of invasive species.  Filter-feeding behavior of species like Zebra mussels thrive in eutrophication of lakes and streams, eating large amounts of smaller invertebrates and algae or plankton that starve smaller fish, which are food sources for yellow perch, walleye, and steelhead.

Cleveland Metroparks’ anglers winter ice fishing on inland lakes and Lake Erie are catching trout, bass, and panfish while steelhead fishing is limited due to frozen rivers, according to Durkalec’s fishing report, which you can follow at Cleveland Metroparks.  The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and Cleveland Metroparks have an ongoing effort to control Hydrilla, an invasive plant that has caused millions in damages in Florida.  Certainly, salted waterways may not be hurting its spread.

“Salt has been noted as being extremely persistent once in the environment,” said Durkalec.

In soils and sediments, salts can release heavy metals into ground water, lower soil pH, permeability leading to erosion, while in aquatic systems, may interfere with bacterial ability to breakdown nitrogen in suburban streams, or reduce the spotted salamander’s survival rate by 40 percent, according to chlorides in water study at the University of Rhode Island College of the Environment and Life Sciences (“Chlorides in Fresh Water” by Molly Hunt, Elizabeth Herron, and Linda Green.  March 4, 2012).

“During Hurricane Sandy ocean water cut thru a barrier beach and flooded Trustom Pond,” said Green.  “It went from being 3-4 parts per thousand salinity to ~30 ppt salinity.  This was a massive shock to its ecosystem and resulted in a huge fish kill.”

As the Plain Dealer reporter called everyone to action to spread salt or be sore he held his shoulder, “Everyone should chop their ice.”

ABOUT GROUNDZ Groundz is a nonprofit organization that recycles food trimmings and organic waste to benefit urban farmers.  We do this by donating restaurant, shop, and cafe organic waste to make onsite compost and build compost assets.  We also help the urban farmers by encouraging more volunteers to help in farming and mentor at-risk youth and developmental disabilities through workplace wellness programs.  The third way we help urban farms is by raising awareness of how organic food is grown in closed-loop waste recycling so our customers can buy back closed-loop local food for wellness.

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