DuPage group studies salt's effects on waterways
Salt usually affects streets in a good way, melting snow and making roads safer for drivers.
But that same road salt can have negative effects on streams and rivers effects the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup has been studying for the past five years, said Stephen McCracken, the workgroup's project manager.
The group places instruments in waterways each winter to measure how much chloride is present. More than 500 milligrams of chloride per liter of water exceeds state standards, and can hurt plants and animals, McCracken said.
The workgroup's past research has discovered too much salt in local waterways.
"Essentially every time we had a storm pass through here in the winter, we were seeing our local rivers spike out of that level," McCracken said.
The workgroup's research is funded by municipalities and organizations, including Lombard, Carol Stream, Downers Grove, Wheaton and local sanitary districts. It hosts two sessions each year for local public works staffs to learn the effects of salt on waterways and better salting techniques, McCracken said.
The workgroup encourages municipalities to make sure salt is not exposed to moisture or wetness at storage facilities. But McCracken said he suggests wetting salt with a special solution immediately before applying it to roads.
DuPage County's highway operations division is taking these suggestions by applying for a grant to improve its salt storage facility, John Kawka, manager of highway operations, said. And Lombard began using a prewetting solution before applying salt to roads last year, said Dave Gorman, assistant director of public works. Anti-icing materials can also aid in attempts to make salt as effective as possible at clearing roads.
"We put (the solution) on roads when they're dry so it breaks the bond of snow to the pavement and makes it easier to plow," Gorman said.
And of course, the less salt road crews apply, the less salt drips and drains into rivers and streams.
"It turns out you can increase public safety and put down less salt," McCracken said. "We can have an environmental benefit and save money and help public safety all in one."
Kawka said DuPage County uses an estimated 30 percent less salt on its 950 lane miles of roads using the new prewetting techniques.
"What we found is that by reducing our overall salt consumption through the year, that's the most dramatic effect on the streams," Kawka said.
The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup's suggested changes to salting policy came at an opportune time, McCracken said.
"Because the price of salt had gone so high, everyone looked at alternative methods for fighting snow," Kawka said.