December 14, 2022

Everyone Urged to be ‘Salt Wise’ and Use Less Salt During Winter Storms to Reduce Impact on Environment and Drinking Water

Everyone Urged to be ‘Salt Wise’ and Use Less Salt During Winter Storms to Reduce the Impact on the Environment and Drinking Water

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.

Salt runs off into storm drains, local streams, and eventually, to the Potomac and Patuxent rivers which are drinking water sources for 1.9 million residents 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.

“Using salt to melt ice from sidewalks and driveways has been a winter staple for generations; however, the harmful impacts from over-salting need to be recognized and addressed,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “We want homeowners to know that that salt goes directly into our drinking water and cannot be removed. Small amounts of salt do the job and better protect the environment. We are also asking that residents sweep up any excessive piles of salt and reuse it. Allowing excess salt to flow into our water puts our environment and our health at risk.”

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.

“Salt levels have skyrocketed in our drinking water sources, the Potomac River and Patuxent River reservoirs, over the past three decades,” said WSSC Water’s Production Director JC Langley. “While our water is absolutely safe to drink, increased salt levels can be a health concern for people on sodium-restrictive diets. We ask residents to protect their drinking-water supplies by being salt wise.”

The Salt Wise campaign is a three-step method for residents to keep sidewalks and driveways safe, while also reducing harm to the environment.

Tips 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.
“As the County takes important steps to be Salt Wise, we encourage residents to also heed this guidance as we all work together to protect our environment,” said Acting DEP Director Adriana Hochberg. “We all need to remember that salt can harm our streams, creeks and our drinking water. We have the tools and the know-how to protect our roads, sidewalks and driveways while also keeping our water supply safe.” 

MCDOT manages the County’s snowstorm response and has implemented 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 before the snow starts to reduce the need for salt use.”

Residents can also take action if they see large piles of salt accidentally spilled onto roadways. MCDOT is reminding residents to call 311 for salt pile cleanup.

“If residents see excessive salt use, they are asked to report it through 311 so that the responsible entity can be asked to clean it up,” said Mr. Dorsey.

Multiple agencies are responsible for clearing snow. The Maryland Department of Transportation clears and salt State roads, typically identified by any roadway with a number such as Connecticut Avenue (Route 185), Georgia Avenue (Route 97) and River Road (Route 190). The County’s Department of General Services manages County facilities such as libraries and Montgomery County Public Schools contracts for school grounds and parking lots. MCDOT clears County roads, typically beginning with arterial roadways and then neighborhood roads.

MC 311 is prepared to determine what entity is responsible and route calls for cleanup in response to inquiries it receives.

The County hosts a Winter Storm Informational Portal for residents. The webpage assists in determining if MCDOT is responsible for treating a street. The website provides updates on the County’s snow removal status and allows for service request submittals.

“We work closely with DEP to monitor salt use. We train our plow drivers and measure what they use, we monitor conditions only laying salt as a last resort when conditions require it for public safety,” said MCDOT Director Chris Conklin. “MCDOT is heavily involved in the County’s Climate Action Plan, and we consistently work to improve our environment in everything we do. We ask that residents and our partner agencies do the same. It will take all of us making environmentally friendly choices collectively to have the impact we need to see.”

For more information on how to effectively address salt use on residential and commercial properties, go to