New study suggests road salt run off could have dangerous impact on fresh water lakes

Kingston, ON, Canada / CKWS TV

Kingston – It’s a growing problem that’s threatening the quality of lake water.  Road salt.  That’s according to a new study that found freshwater lakes are getting saltier.

“The closer that you have a road or that paved surface to a lake and the more you have of it the more you’re salting it…”

That’s Jamie Summers.  The Queen’s University PhD Candidate was one of 15 researchers who collaborated on the paper.  Data was collected from 371 lakes in eastern North America – from Ontario and New York to Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The research found road salt runoff used to melt snow and ice was seeping into the ground and making its way into lakes… from as far away as half a kilometre.  And it doesn’t take much salt to impact the fresh water.

Jamie Summers/Queen’s PhD Candidate
“We find that as little as 1-percent of impervious surface or paved surface such as a road, or a sidewalk, or parking lot is a pretty good predictor of those rising salt levels in those water bodies.”

The research did not include data from area waterways or the Great Lakes.  But Summers says the evidence is crystal clear — higher salt levels could affect drinking water, the lake’s ecosystem as well as increase bacteria which could lead to blue green algae blooms.

“If you use less salt, you reduce your costs…”

Kingston’s director of public works says the city has adopted a number of initiatives over the last decade to reduce the amount of salt it uses in winter.  Not only to help with the environment but also to keep costs down.

Damon Wells/Director of Public Works
“The use of electronic spreader controllers so instead of having the operator have to manage the amount of salt and sand that might have gone onto the road – it’s all done electronically. The other big one was the use of winter control liquids for either pre-wetting your solids that are going on the road or for anti-icing.”

Researchers says homeowners and private businesses have a role to play too…. to reduce the salt that’s used on driveways and other surfaces.

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