Stay Away Old Man Winter. You’re Killing the Fish
I think it's finally safe to say winter is over. But then again, that's what we thought last week. What the heck Minnesota?! Snow in May? REALLY?
I was not all that annoyed about the cold, I can deal with that. As my teachers at the School of Environmental Studies told me: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
What I cannot get over is the amount of salt that gets dumped on our roads, driveways, and sidewalks. And as we begin a transition into a brief spring then summer, I think about how much our waterways suffer from our sodium chloride addiction. Minnesotans know the value of our lakes, so it is important to remember that our actions during winter months are permanently changing the way we use our water.
With our vast amount of freshwater lakes and rivers, you can only imagine what salt does to an ecosystem. And we are not talking just a little salt. We are talking around 350,000 TONS a year. And it only takes one teaspoon of salt to contaminate 5 gallons of water.
As there are no natural mechanisms in place to break down chloride, it all starts to settle to the bottom of the water. This changes water turnover and oxygen mixing. Salt also increases the chance of algal blooms (which destroy natural fish habitats) and it is flat out harmful to the fish themselves. It is even in the groundwater, effecting what comes out of the tap.
The problem at hand is not difficult to comprehend or fix. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have all recognized the issue and have taken steps to alleviate it. But more can be done. Solutions include everything from shoveling more (less snow = less slip) to using more sand (sometimes traction is enough). Minnesota could also utilize more environmentally friendly de-icing products such as Calcium Magnesium Acetate. Although the initial cost may be higher, the amount saved in water quality maintenance, clean-up, and health benefits are well worth it.