The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and WSSC Water are urging homeowners to be “Salt Wise” and use less salt on sidewalks and driveways during winter storms. Local leaders, including County Executive Marc Elrich and WSSC Water General Manager and CEO Carla A. Reid, emphasized the campaign at an event this week in Potomac.
Salt runs off into storm drains, local streams, and eventually, to the Potomac and Patuxent rivers, which are drinking water sources for 1.8 million people in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Salt can corrode concrete and masonry, harm pets, damage surrounding plants and lawns, and adversely impact the water supply.
“As we move into the winter season, we want the public to be aware of the environmental dangers of over salting,” said County Executive Elrich. “It’s critically important that every public and private sidewalk to be passable and safe following winter storms. However, we want homeowners to understand that over salting does not make sidewalks and driveways safer, rather it puts our water eco-system at greater long-term risk of damage.”
Salt levels have been steadily increasing in local streams, posing a risk to sensitive wildlife and stream health. Once salt gets into waterways, it does not go away.
“Over the past 30 years, we have seen a dramatic increase in salt levels the Potomac and Patuxent rivers,” said WSSC Water General Manager and CEO Reid. “Because we cannot remove salt during the filtration process, higher levels end up in the drinking water—impacting people who must closely monitor their salt intake. In addition, salt is corrosive and slowly wears away our water mains, which leads to more breaks and leaks.”
The Salt Wise campaign is a simple three-step method for residents to keep sidewalks and driveways safe while also reducing harm to the environment.
The tips that residents can follow include:
- Shovel ice and snow early and often.
- Use one 12-ounce cup of salt for 10 sidewalk squares or for a 20-foot driveway.
- After storm events, sweep up excess salt for reuse.
MCDOT manages the County’s snowstorm response and is also implementing steps to reduce salt overuse.
“We apply the minimum amount of salt necessary to endure public safety during snowstorms,” said MCDOT Chief of Highway Services Richard Dorsey. “We have implemented plow bumpers on all our plows, allowing for early plowing. We also use salt brine, a 23 percent solution of salt vs. water to reduce salt use.”
Residents can take action if they see large piles of salt accidentally spilled onto roadways. MCDOT advises residents to call 311 if they see a need for salt pile cleanup.
“Protecting our environment is a core value for MCDOT,” said MCDOT Director Chris Conklin. “We are consistently looking for ways to do things better with less of an impact. We work closely with DEP to monitor salt levels, use only what we need and are heavily involved in the County’s Climate Action plans to reach County goals of reduced emissions. We work to improve our environment whenever we can. We ask residents to do the same. It will take all of us making environmentally friendly choices collectively to have the impact we need to see occur.”
For more information on how to effectively address salt use on residential and commercial properties, go to MontgomeryCountyMD.gov/salt.