Each winter, the Chicago region uses more than 270,000 tons of road salt to control ice on roads, parking lots, and sidewalks. While maintaining public safety is absolutely necessary, the amount of salt used is excessive and is polluting our drinking water. Once salt is put down, it doesn’t just disappear. Instead, it enters bodies of water and accumulates over time, which impacts aquatic life and pollutes drinking water.
The good news is that most counties or municipalities already have salt reduction programs in place for roads they manage. For example, the McHenry County Division of Transportation uses trucks with a computerized dispensing system, which places the optimal amount of salt on the surface. They also use different techniques and materials, such as salt brine, to reduce the amount of salt used.
However, aside from practices used by public agencies, there are other surfaces, such as sidewalks and parking lots, that require salting in the winter and are serviced by private contractors. Until recently, there were few sensible salting practices for private contractors. Recognizing the need for additional resources, the NWPA partnered with The Conservation Foundation to develop a best practices manual for parking lots and sidewalks and establish a training and certification program through the Salt Smart Collaborative.
As part of this effort, The Conservation Foundation launched the Salt Smart Certified program for parking lots and sidewalks this past fall. The program provides training and certification for anyone tasked with maintaining these surfaces, including contractors, business owners, park districts, municipalities, school districts, or libraries. These trainings are a first step in the certification process. So far, there have been two virtual workshops and one in-person workshop in McHenry County focused on Salt Smart practices. Over 400 people have participated in the three trainings, and two contractors have been certified. The Salt Smart Collaborative is hosting another virtual training session on December 8, 2023.
In addition to the training sessions, the Conservation Foundation is launching “lunch & learn” presentations for property managers, which focus on how Salt Smart practices can provide safe surfaces and protect facility infrastructure. Along with the presentations, property managers have access to a booklet with Salt Smart best management practices.
If your community is interested in participating in or getting more information about these programs, please contact Jennifer Hammer at The Conservation Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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