Hold the Salt
December 6, 2009 6:38 PM
I watch the weather forecast very closely this time of year, and it looks like we can expect more snow this week. So let me get out in front on this one: no, after a storm the streets will not look as good in Madison as they will in the suburbs. That's a good thing, and here's why.
We care about the lakes. Chloride content in the Madison lakes (and in our drinking water) has been growing steadily for decades because of the use of road salt. In fact, chloride readings are about twice what they were thirty years ago. It would have been even worse, but for about three decades Madison has had a policy of using as little salt as possible. We don't use salt at all on residential streets. Instead we have designated "salt routes" which are major arterials, bus routes, major neighborhood connector streets and streets near hospitals and schools. And we are careful about how much salt we do use along those salt routes.
And, we're always looking for new ways to reduce the use of salt. We've found, for example, that mixing it with water and creating brine works pretty well. We've also looked at beet juice (too pricey) and a new product called "ice slicer" which uses less salt to achieve the same purposes (also expensive, but less is needed).
There's another benefit too. Last year while other communities scrambled to find more salt at high prices, Madison had plenty to spare because we're careful about how much we use.
Dane County also practices some salt conservation measures, but none of the other communities in Dane County try to reduce their salt use. They just pour it on with detrimental impacts to our lakes.
So, our best hope for getting the salt out of our fresh water lakes is public opinion. As long as people demand bare pavement in January, local governments will heavily salt their streets. But if we're willing to accept a little packed snow on our residential streets - not just in Madison but in our neighboring communities as well - then our lakes and our drinking water will be better for it.