Skip to content

The Silent Threat: The Impact of Road Salt on Minnesota’s Water


Minnesota’s picturesque lakes and rivers are a source of pride and joy for its residents, offering both recreational opportunities and supporting diverse ecosystems. However, the increasing use of road salt during winter months is posing a significant threat to our lakes and rivers, leading to chloride pollution that adversely affects water quality, fish populations, and the overall environmental balance.

Chloride Pollution and Water Quality:

Road salt, primarily composed of sodium chloride, is extensively used in Minnesota to combat icy winter conditions. As snow and ice melt, the salt is carried into nearby lakes and rivers, leading to a surge in chloride levels. Elevated chloride concentrations have a profound impact on water quality, disrupting the delicate balance of ecosystems. High chloride levels can impair the water’s ability to support aquatic life and may even lead to salinization, affecting the taste and safety of drinking water.

Additional salt impacts on water quality in Minnesota here: MPCA Chloride

Excessive Salt Use on Sidewalk – MPCA

Impact on Fish and Aquatic Life:

Fish and other aquatic organisms are highly sensitive to changes in water quality, and elevated chloride levels can have devastating effects. It interferes with the osmoregulation process in fish, disrupting their internal balance of water and salts. This can lead to reduced growth rates, reproductive issues, and, in extreme cases, mortality.

Additional salt impacts on fish here: MN DNR Hold the Salt

The Permanence of Salt in Water:

Once salt enters freshwater bodies, removing it becomes nearly impossible. Unlike some pollutants that can be filtered or treated, salt dissolves and becomes a permanent component of the water. This persistence makes it crucial to address salt usage at the source to prevent long-term damage.

Ways to Reduce Salt Usage:

Both public entities and private homeowners can play a role in mitigating the impact of salt on freshwater ecosystems.

  1. Calibration of Salt Spreading Equipment: Ensuring that salt-spreading equipment is calibrated accurately can prevent over-application and reduce overall salt usage.
  2. Use of Alternatives: Exploring alternatives such as sand, gravel, or calcium magnesium acetate can be effective in controlling ice without introducing chloride into the environment.
  3. Timely Plowing and Shoveling: Prompt snow removal can minimize the need for excessive salt application, promoting safer roads and sidewalks.

Minnesota’s Smart Salting Program:

Minnesota has taken significant steps to address chloride pollution through its Smart Salting Program. This initiative focuses on educating and training professionals responsible for winter maintenance, emphasizing efficient salt application techniques and encouraging the use of alternative materials. More info here: Smart Salting MPCA

Rice Creek Watershed District’s Actions:

RCWD actively supports the Smart Salting Program and plays a crucial role in educating the public. Hosting workshops and outreach programs, the district empowers homeowners, businesses, and local municipalities to adopt salt reduction practices, fostering a community-wide commitment to preserving freshwater ecosystems. Current workshops posted on our Events page.

Below is an educational resource video created by our partners at Washington Conservation District available to the public.

Close