Roads in New Jersey will become slipperier as winter brings colder temperatures and snowstorms. Road salts and deicers are used to clear ice-covered streets, improve traffic conditions, and reduce accidents. While making our roads safer to drive on, road salts also have been shown to affect water quality by raising the salinity (‘saltiness’) of freshwater rivers, streams, and groundwater (Kaushal et al. 2018). Large rivers, such as the Passaic River (Ophori et al. 2019), and even coastal waters like the Barnegat Bay (Goodrow et al. 2017) are seeing increased salinity.
Increasing amounts of salts in the environment can have many effects on our day-to-day lives. Human health can be impacted as drinking water supplies become unusable. Pets and wildlife can have their paws burnt by excess deicers on sidewalks and driveways or become sick from ingesting salts. Roadside vegetation and landscape plants can experience leaf burn. Many commercially important shellfish, like oysters and clams, can only spawn and grow in a lower range of salinity and may become scarce due to increased salinity. Soils may become too salty for certain native plants to grow, allowing invasive vegetation to take over natural areas.
There are many things you can do to use less salt this winter:
- Shovel Early and Often – Snow is easier to shovel before temperatures drop and it freezes to ice. The more snow you remove manually means less salt that you need to use. This also makes salt more effective at melting any ice that does form. Remove the slush that deicers and ice melts create before temperatures drop. This will help to keep your property ice free.
- Give the Salt Some Space – Most people use more salt than needed, wasting money along with wasting extra salt. Salt works best when scattered with space between the grains (about 1”-2” is good). A coffee cup of road salt can cover up to 20 feet of driveway or 10 sidewalk squares of pavement.
- Take Your Temperature – Salt deicers don’t work if the pavement is below 15 degrees F. At lower temperatures, use sand for traction or switch to a low temperature ice melt.
- Sweep, Save, and Scatter Again – You can clean up any leftover salt, sand, or ice melt and reuse in future storms.
- Plant Salt Loving Plants – Create buffer zones between your paved areas and yards by planting salt tolerant plants. These plants will also help to reduce runoff from your property and protect local waterways and wildlife.
- Get Involved – Become a part of the New Jersey Watershed Watch Network’s corps of volunteers monitoring the impact of salts on local fresh waters. To participate in this community science project, pick an accessible spot on a freshwater stream or lake near you. You will return to this spot six times before the end of March to measure how chloride levels change in response to road salting events. Testing takes about 10 minutes, including the time it takes to post your results to the online data portal. More information can be found at njwatershedwatch.org/road-salt/.
Resources and Further Reading on Road Salts/Deicers
Stretz, Erin. 2021. ‘Let’s Stop As-Salt-ing Our Streams: The Impacts of Road Salt on Freshwater’ (Video).
Rutgers Cooperative Extension – Plant & Pest Advisory: Impact of Road Salt on Adjacent Vegetation
Lists plants that are tolerant of salt and those that are sensitive.
Cornell Cooperative Extension – Road Salts & Deicers
Cornell Cooperative Extension – Road Salts in Our Watersheds (2-page PDF)
Provides ways to reduce salt use at home and in your communities.
Goodrow, SM et al. 2017. ‘Long-Term Temporal Water-Quality Trends within the Barnegat Bay Watershed, New Jersey’. Journal of Coastal Research.
Kaushal, SS et al. 2018. ‘Freshwater salinization syndrome on a continental scale’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ophori, D. 2019. ‘Impact of road deicing salts on the Upper Passaic River Basin, New Jersey: a geochemical analysis of the major ions in groundwater’. Environmental Earth Sciences.