By: Gwen Roth
Is that really the question? Around this time of year many questions come up about using salt to melt the ice on our roads and bridges. Road salt (sometimes called rock salt) is mostly sodium chloride, the same as our table salt, but in a much coarser form. Sodium chloride, in small amounts is actually important for people to consume, but in larger amounts can be harmful to people, wildlife and aquatic ecosystems.
So where does rock salt come from and why do we use it? Interestingly, according to the American Geosciences Institute, Ohio is the 3rd largest producer of rock salt (5.4 million metric tons), behind Louisiana and New York and 2nd highest consumer of rock salt (3.5 million metric tons), behind only New York. Rock salt is used by many communities to make travel safer. It is spread on roads to help lower the freezing temperature of water, thereby not allowing ice to form. Over the years, the use of road salt has increased dramatically in the US.
Image: American Geosciences Institute
With this increased use of rock salt, comes increased environmental issues as well. While the rock salt is designed to keep roads from becoming slippery, as the snow and ice melts it mixes with the salt and runs off. This stormwater runoff often goes directly to creeks and streams where it can wreak havoc on local aquatic ecosystems. A 2017, study of 371 lakes in North America (mostly in Northern US and Southern Canada) showed chloride levels rose in over 30% of the lakes and more than two dozen were approaching chloride levels harmful to aquatic wildlife. When salt gets into our local waterbodies, it can alter the water’s temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and cause stratification - the inability to mix water vertically in the water column. This can lead to fish kills, algal blooms and an increase in non-native species, who are traditionally more able to adapt to changing environments.
Our local governments are doing many things to decrease salt runoff, including pre-treating roadways with a mixture of salt and water (called brine which uses significantly less salt than traditional treatments), using alternative solutions (like beet juice mixtures) and making sure salt is stored in a covered area to prevent runoff.
So, what can you do to help out? When it snows, first shovel your driveway or sidewalk before adding salt and make sure to use the minimum amount to do the job. You can always add more later if needed. If you just want to get traction and not to melt the ice, you can always add sand, but try to sweep up later to avoid clogging storm drains. Research alternatives to rock salt. Many ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘green’ products that people use to replace salt might not be that green at all, so do your homework. In 2019, Olivia and Sophia Dick from Wyoming High School won the Caring For Our Watersheds competition because they had researched an alternative to rock salt, made up samples and distributed them to their local community members. What was their alternative? Used coffee grounds and alfalfa meal and it really works!
Bottom line, we live in a climate where we have to deal with snow in the winter (at least some of the time) and while there is no perfect answer to get rid of the snow, we can all do a little to help protect our local ecosystem by not over using salt.
Dugan, Hillary A., et al. “Salting our Freshwater Lakes.” PNAS vol. 114, no.17, 2017, 4453-4458. https://www.pnas.org/content/114/17/4453.full
Lilek, Joseph, “Roadway Deicing in the United States.” American Geosciences Institute. 2017. https://www.americangeosciences.org/sites/default/files/CI_Factsheet_2017_3_Deicing_170712.pdf
By: Michiko Riley
COLUMBUS, Ohio, Dec. 14, 2020 – The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has an opportunity to those interested in growing urban and rural produce within the Cincinnati city limits to apply for financial and technical assistance for high tunnel systems, commonly referred to as hoop houses.
Imagine enjoying freshly harvested vegetables from a local community producer all winter long. High tunnels make growing vegetables possible long after the first frost. In addition, urban and rural area farmers can build high tunnels, in or near community gardens and residential areas, allowing growers to cultivate and harvest a source of nutritious food closer to where they live, especially for populations living in a food desert.
A high tunnel sits over top of the garden and uses arch shaped aluminum poles to support removable heavy plastic sheets that trap the sun’s heat, warming the air. Most have a peak height that allows an adult to stand easily with room to spare. They look like greenhouses except plants grow in the ground instead of in pots.
Cincinnati is on the forefront of providing opportunities for diversified farming operations by offering more flexibility in allowing farming practices within the city limits. Applicants approved for a high tunnel system must adhere to local zoning and building requirements for high tunnel systems. Applicants must also have control of the land where the high tunnel system will be installed.
To apply for a high tunnel system in Cincinnati, contact NRCS’ Ms. Lori Lenhart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-653-3460. Ms. Lenhart will assess proposed high tunnel sites and help applicants through the application process. If you have an interest in a high tunnel system and are located outside of the Cincinnati city limits, contact your local NRCS conservationist as soon as possible. Be sure to check the status of your Service Center when you reach out to us. For offices with restrictions on in-person appointments, we are still available by phone, email, and through other digital tools. Your Service Center’s status is available at https://www.farmers.gov/coronavirus/service-center-status.
Applications signed and submitted to NRCS by the January 15, 2021 deadline will be evaluated for fiscal year 2021 funding. Visit Ohio NRCS website under “EQIP Funding Categories” for more details. To learn more about EQIP or other technical and financial assistance available through NRCS conservation programs, visit Get Started with NRCS or contact your local USDA Service Center.
Hi there! I’m Sarah, the new Public Involvement Coordinator here at the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District. I’ve spent my first few weeks learning about all the great ongoing conservation projects across the county. While I may have my own ideas for new projects, I would love to hear from you! Are there ways you would like to get involved in Hamilton County conservation? Is there a better way to let you know about opportunities? Let us know if you have a project in mind, like a location that needs a new rain garden. If you want to get involved but aren’t sure how, if you would like to learn more about conservation in your own yard, or any other suggestions you have to engage our community and conserve the natural resources we have here in Hamilton County! Feel free to contact me via phone (513-284-8314) or by email.