The use of road salt to manage snow and ice on roadways and parking lots is polluting water throughout the Chicago region and beyond. While maintaining public safety during winter conditions is absolutely necessary, much of the salt applied to paved surfaces under current practices is excessive, leading to huge economic and environmental costs. The scale of this problem is massive because salt is applied to all paved surfaces including roads, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks.
The good news? There are Sensible Salting Best Management Practices (BMPs) that can safely manage snow and ice while reducing the amount of salt used. The bad news? Current practices that drive the excess use of salt are well-established. So how can we help change behavior and protect water resources?
With transportation agencies working on road salt reduction, the Northwest Water Planning Alliance (NWPA) Sensible Salting Sub-Committee has determined that the next greatest reduction can be achieved by changing salt use practices on parking lots.
Most counties or municipalities already have salt reduction programs in place for roads they manage, and there are a variety of ways to influence salt use by governmental transportation agencies. On the other hand, there are no controls over salt use by private contractors or on parking lots. Due to poor information and liability fears, the excess use of salt is incentivized on parking lots.
According to a rough estimate from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, off street parking covers as much as 60,000 acres of land in the Chicago region. Even small reductions in off street salt use would have a large impact.
The Sensible Salting Sub-Committee has initiated a four-step approach to address this problem, beginning with creating a Regional Sensible Salting BMP Manual for Parking Lots and Sidewalks. The Regional Manual will allow any organization with an interest in snow/ice management or water quality to refer to the same information and advocate with a uniform message. The Regional Manual will be complete in the summer of 2019.
Future steps will include a training and certification program, working with municipalities to hire contractors who are certified, and developing state legislation to incentivize property owners to hire certified contractors. This would fundamentally change to way snow/ice management is done and incentivize Sensible Salting BMPs.
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