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Salt Pollution

What's the deal with salt?

One teaspoon_circle.pngWinter in Minnesota means sledding and snowmen, and it also means managing snow and ice on our driveways and sidewalks. Have you ever wondered what happens to the salt we put down to melt ice? It doesn’t go away!

Salt washes into stormdrains and flows through pipes to local lakes, streams, and wetlands, where it becomes pollution. Just one teaspoon of salt is enough to pollute five gallons of water. Decreasing salt use is a powerful way to protect Minnesota’s waters.

The Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District partners with cities, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and other organizations to host trainings for winter maintenance professionals and property managers. These workshops guide professionals in best practices for winter safety that also protect clean water.
Find a training.

How are the chloride levels in RPBCWD lakes?

The District has monitored chloride pollution in lakes for several years, and chloride levels are trending up in most lakes and streams!

Check out water quality data summaries, including chloride, on our lake fact sheets. Looking for even more detail about water quality? Check out the most recent RPBCWD Water Quality Report on the Annual Reporting page.

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Frequently Asked Questions about winter salt use

Why we should reduce the use of de-icers? What you can use instead of salt? How to address liability concerns? Read the FAQ to find answers to these and more questions.

Open the FAQ

What are the impacts of salt usage?

Polluted stormwater infographic, winter.pngAquatic Life - It takes only one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water, as chlorides do not break down over time. At high concentrations, chloride can deplete dissolved oxygen levels and be harmful to fish, aquatic plants, and other aquatic organisms.

Groundwater - Chlorides can infiltrate through soil into groundwater aquifers, affecting its taste and raising safety concerns about increased sodium content.

Plants - Salt applied to roads can damage roadside vegetation, and salty runoff can displace other much-needed nutrients in the soil, which can stunt growth and lead to toxic levels of chloride that interrupt photosythesis. 

Soil - Salt-laden soil can lose its ability to retain water and store nutrients and be more prone to erosion and sediment runoff.

Pets and Wildlife - Road salt can look like a tasty treat to birds and other wildlife, which can be toxic. It may also irritate your pet's paws, and cause health problems if they eat it or lick it off their paws.

Infrastructure - salt can have corrosive effects on infrastructure, degrading roads and bridges and damaging vehicles hit by salty spray. 

What are chloride conditions in waterbodies across the state?

Explore the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's map of chloride conditions for Minnesota lakes, ponds, and streams.


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You can help too!

Use the tips below to help decrease salt use around your home and be a part of the clean water solution:



Shovel first! Clear walkways and other areas before the snow turns to ice. The more snow you can remove manually, the less salt you will need to use, and the more effective it will be.



If you need to apply salt to pavement, scatter the salt widely, leaving space between grains of salt. A coffee mug of salt is enough for 60-70 feet of sidewalk, or two parking spots. A hand or push spreader helps too!



When the pavement temperature is below 15 degrees, salt doesn’t work. When cold temperatures are predicted, try to shovel and remove ice before it hits. Use a little sand for traction if needed.



Sweep up extra salt. Salt only works once it is dissolved. If you can see salt on your driveway, it isn’t doing any work. Sweep it up, and use it again next time.

Salt Smart Toolkit

Minnesotans are used to seeing piles of salt in the winter. If you start to decrease the amount of salt you use at your office, faith-based organization, or other campus, your community might wonder why. They might even be concerned. The flyers in this kit are one way you can help share your salt smart actions, and show others how they can join in in protecting clean water.


What is it?

A set of printable materials to hang on doors, windows, or tape to a salt bag, or hand out at the front desk.


What is it for?

To help you communicate your salt smart actions to others.


Who is it for?

Local businesses, non-profits, office buildings, and faith-based organizations. However, anyone is welcome.


Single-sided sheet

Ideas: hang on doors/windows

We are salt smart one sided brochure


Ideas: hang on doors/windows. Tape to salt bag or bucket.

Two-sided sheet

Ideas: have copies at front desk.

Two sided brochure

Additional Resources

Signs, table tents, and flyers about winter safety created by SFM Insurance.


Tips on how to hire a contractor that uses less salt from Nine Mile Creek WD

Snow removal

Salt use tip card from Clean Water Minnesota

Using salt wisely


Usage notes for Salt Smart brochures: All of the blue Salt Smart flyers were created by RPBCWD. They are free to download, print, and use as you'd like. If you change them at all, we'd like to know and to see what you come up with. The links above are to materials created by, and belonging to other organizations. Please respect any usage instructions listed on their websites.