Minneapolis sees slow progress in reducing usage of road salt

Published 4:49 pm Thursday, December 21, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota isn’t close to its goal of reducing its use of road salt, but Minneapolis is showing slow progress.

Road salt used by winter maintenance crews is a worrisome pollutant, according to a press release. Heavy use of road salt over the past 20 years is causing many lakes to show chloride levels considered dangerous to aquatic life.

Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency found that 21 lakes, 22 streams and four wetlands have “unacceptable” chloride levels.

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Many alternatives to road salt can negatively impact the environment and it can also be costly for cities to adopt new technology, so Minnesota’s water maintenance leaders set goals to be more efficient with road salt use.

Consultant Connie Fortin trains maintenance crews in “smart salting.” Fortin said people thought it was “crazy” to question the use of road salt when she first started teaching classes.

“We heard, ‘Do you want dead fish or dead people?’ A lot,” said Fortin.

She directs drivers to spray brines that contain more water than salt as a strategy. She also suggests using sand or other chemicals.

Mike Kennedy leads Minneapolis’ winter maintenance. He said it is difficult balancing safety, cost and the environment, though he’s seen some progress in cutting down the city’s salt use.

“When I started doing this 20-something years ago, I do remember we were buying something like and using something like 20,000 tons of salt per year in the city of Minneapolis,” Kennedy said. “These days we’re down to 12, 13, 15,000 tons.”