City and town of Lake Mills officials are becoming more well versed in what it takes to salt our local roads responsibly after attending a recent webinar by Wisconsin Salt Wise.
Salt levels in our fresh water, including surface water and groundwater wells have been increasing over the last several decades. These levels are becoming dangerous in many locations in Wisconsin, due to road salt usage as well as use on parking lots, driveways and in water softeners.
Allison Madison, Wisconsin Salt Wise, sustainability and development coordinator, presented on the topic virtually March 2 for Wisconsin Towns and Villages, explaining how the salt applied to roads and driveways affects lakes, streams and groundwater.
“Our presentation today was inspired by John Crump from Lake Mills, WI,” Madison said at the start of the presentation. “I’m here today to protect Wisconsin freshwater from salt pollution.”
Salt concentrations in Wisconsin surface and groundwater are increasing, threatening freshwater ecosystems and drinking water. The adoption of winter maintenance best management practices enables 40-70% reductions in salt usage, saving small municipalities thousands of dollars, according to Salt Wise. Optimal calibration of equipment is crucial and the use of brine or a pre-wetting strategy are also useful strategies.
Madison said nationally the United States uses 24,000,000 tons of salt per year.
“It all goes into our water,” she said.
Salt does about $2 billion dollars of damage per year to vegetation and $5 billion dollars of damage to infrastructure, according to Madison.
Salt used to be an affordable option, but it was averaging about $80 per ton this winter.
“It’s becoming less affordable,” Madison commented.
Salt disrupts the ecosystem of freshwater lakes, rivers and streams by killing off the zooplankton, which feed on the algae in our waters.
“We are not saying you can’t use salt. We’re just saying be wise about it,” she said.
Madison gave examples of municipalities that have learned how to properly calibrate equipment and reduce salt use and save money. She mentioned Cudahy, Middleton, The Bruce Company, Village of DeForest and Town of Linn.
There were 98 participants at the workshop including area leaders and local contractors, who are likely to bid on the Town of Lake Mills next three-year winter road plowing and maintenance contract.
Town of Lake Mills chairperson Hope Oostdik has been advocating for research on the use of brine in the township for several years, but there have been limited bids submitted to the township for winter road maintenance services.
The primary goal of Salt Wise is to work with organizations across Wisconsin to reduce salt pollution in Wisconsin’s waters. Salt Wise offers a free four-hour training to contractors and municipalities, who want to learn salt use best practices. Employees of the City of Lake Mills will be taking the Salt Wise training March 12.
“We want to promote best practices that can lead to savings in your salt bill, savings to your infrastructure and repair costs and knowing you are protecting our states fresh water for yourself, your children and your children’s, children,” Madison said.
The session covered a broad range of issues and questions. The panel who addressed these questions included Madison, Greg Hall, public service project coordinator, Village of DeForest and Matt Wittum, highway superintendent, Town of Linn.
According to John Crump, president of the Rock Lake Improvement Association, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has been a national leader in reducing and optimizing use of road salt on state highways.
“Jefferson County has also been a national leader of road salt optimization. Our county, led by Bill Kern, Jefferson County highway commissioner, has been the key county in Wisconsin for testing, scientific studies and innovation in road salt usage, especially use of liquid salt (brine) and related winter highway maintenance strategies helping to establish best practices for the rest of the state and nation,” Crump said. “However, this hasn’t uniformly trickled down to our towns and other municipalities. It is crucial that the general public becomes informed about these issues because in the end, town and city decision makers respond to their community members’ needs and expectations.”
The City of Lake Mills has had pre-wetting equipment for three years but have recently had issues with the pumps.
“We weren’t using them this year because we were getting too much or too little on there,” said Paul Hermanson, City of Lake Mills, director of public works. “We’ve started building our own brine truck for next snow season.”
Hermanson said they didn’t have a lot of education on the best ways to use brine.
“We are getting to the point where there is more information available on how to do this and we are getting the guys involved in the classes and we’re going to really take a good look at how to calibrate both the rock salt distribution and the brining.”
He said there is a lot of science to understand about what brine products to use at what time to not create a potentially dangerous situation.
“Brining is not the do all, end all, still the key to keeping the streets safe is getting the snow off. This is just another tool we have to help,” he said.