Road salt keeps our roads safe but does it hurt Michigan’s watershed?

Road salt keeps our roads safe but does it hurt Michigan’s watershed?
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 6:35 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Salt trucks have had a busy couple of days in Michigan. However, researchers claim salt used on our roads is making our lakes and rivers too salty.

That’s because as salt trucks make their rounds to keep our roads safe, the salt ends up in more places than our roads. It ends up in our water and it could be harming our ecosystems.

In a recent study, researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin, found that Michigan’s use of roughly 450,000 tons of salt a year is not only ending up in our water, but it’s also changing it.

Robert Mooney, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin, said the more salt that ends up in our water, the more our water changes.

“We found that there’s about a million tons of salt entering Lake Michigan each year,” said Mooney. “We know that streams, lakes, and rivers are getting saltier due mostly to road salt use in the winter in states that experience harsh winters with poor conditions on the roads.”

However, the Michigan Department of Transportation has been experimenting with alternative solutions -- quite literally.

One solution they are putting to the test is made by mixing agricultural brine made from either corn or beets, with water and salt. They’ve found that not only does it cut costs, it also minimizes the amount of salt needed to melt ice.

A pilot program in Montcalm County using this solution was so effective, it’s now being used in places like Grand Ledge.

For a state that uses so much salt, Mark Geib, with MDOT, said it could save taxpayers millions down the road while clearing up the road.

“So we’re looking at this as a good way to be more environmentally responsible with a lesser impact on the environment and to save the taxpayers money because if you can save 40 percent of 25 to 30 million dollars a year.. that’s a lot of money,” said Geib.

But MDOT and researchers alike said that when it comes to using Michigan’s most abundant resource, we have to do so responsibly.

“Everybody lives within watershed whether its a stream, a river or a lake. So what you do in your watershed has the potential to influence a specific water body,” said Mooney.

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